Only 1% of the Japanese population is Christian, so Christmas is not truly considered as a religious holiday, but rather as a fun and festive event. However, most companies consider December 25th as a normal working day. In the land of the Rising Sun, Christmas Eve is more celebrated than the actual day.
Some Christmas customs have been imported from the West (especially from the United States) but Japan has managed, once again, to "Japaneseize" this holiday to really make it its own and create its own way of celebrating Christmas. You will certainly find illuminated Christmas trees 🎄 in shopping malls, Christmas markets and fairy lights, but also some unique traditions 100% made in Japan.
In Japanese, "Merry Christmas" is called "Meri Kurisumasu" and Santa 🎅 is known as Santa san ("Mr. Santa"). However, exchanging gifts on the eve is not really something common among families, only couples give each other small gifts 🎁. In Japanese culture, there already exists a tradition of exchanging gifts in December known as Oseibo. For this occasion, Japanese people offer gifts to their colleagues as a token of gratitude. Within families, the Japanese gift exchange takes place on New Year's Day, a holiday that is much more celebrated than Christmas in Japan.
If you want to know more about Christmas in Japan, well here is a little insight!
Enjoying the winter illuminations
Although winter illuminations in Japan are not directly related to Christmas, it is hard not to mention them. Every year, in winter, Japanese cities are decorated with lights and garlands for the great pleasure of our eyes! The tradition of the Christmas tree is not very common in the land of the Rising Sun, however stores and shopping malls will not hesitate to display giant trees all illuminated and richly decorated to impress your eyes. 🤩 And when it comes to going all out on the decorations; the Japanese know how to do so!
Devouring a huge chicken bucket at KFC
Christmas dinner... That magical moment when everyone gathers around a table to eat delicious dishes that have been simmering all day long. In Japan, things are a bit different... No Christmas turkey on the table but a huge bucket of fried chicken ordered at the local KFC. And no less than 3.6 million Japanese families enjoy the tenders and wings 🍗 of the famous Colonel Sanders each and every year. Demand is so high this holiday season that people have to order the special Christmas menu up to six weeks in advance. And if you haven't anticipated enough, you may find yourself waiting on hold for hours at the end of the phone before being able to place your order!
But where does this tradition come from? Well, the origin of this tradition can be traced back to 50 years ago, when the first KFC manager in the country, Takeshi Okawara, had the idea of creating a special Christmas bucket. In 1974, KFC launched a nationwide advertising campaign to promote this "Christmas bucket" and it was a huge success, especially thanks to their slogan "Kentucky for Christmas!". Since then, the traditional Christmas meal in Japan rhymes with KFC and this tradition is truly rooted in Japanese society. One thing is for sure, being a chicken in Japan is not a good thing at this time of the year. 🐓
We found a Japanese commercial for you that was on TV in 2010 during the holiday season. Check it out yourself.😄
Enjoying a romantic evening with your lover
In Japan, the Christmas Eve spirit is quite different from the Western traditions. For young Japanese, the evening of December 24 is considered the most romantic day 💝 of the year, similar to Valentine's Day. Finding a partner to spend the evening romantically together is very important. Young Japanese couples are used to booking a table in a fancy restaurant (or at the local KFC), walking under the winter lights and giving each other romantic gifts.
Often, single people feel bad on this night, so to forget their loneliness, they go out to bars with their friends and usually end up drunk. In this video, the famous Christmas song Jingle Bells has been parodied into Single Hell: it will give you a little idea of how single people feel about this holiday. 😂
Eating spongy cakes covered in cream and strawberries
Once you've devoured your KFC chicken, it's time for dessert. In Japan, kurisumasu keki - or Christmas cake - is sold on practically every corner. It's a light, spongy cake topped with whipped cream and red strawberries. By the way, this emoji 🍰, in case you didn't know, is the image of the traditional Japanese Christmas cake! Nowadays, you may find this kind of cake with pistachio, chocolate and other fruits than strawberry.
Attend the Christmas parade at Disneyland
At Christmas, Disneyland Tokyo is a very popular destination for both families and couples. The theme park is fully decorated and the day is filled with Christmas parades with costumes, choreography and candy throwing to bring joy to children and adults alike. Even Santa makes an appearance! 🎅🏻
You better enjoy the crowds - because on December 24, the aisles of the theme park are very very busy. If you want to enjoy the Christmas spirit at Disneyland Tokyo without getting stepped on, note that the decorations are set up from the second week of November. However, on December 26, all the decorations are removed to make way for New Year's Eve, a very important celebration in Japan.