The celebration of Christmas in Japan dates back only about a century; yet in the past thirty-five years, the Christmas festivities have grown to enormous proportions (christmas-treasures.com).
Christmas in Japan is quite different from the Christmas celebrated in most countries in which the population has a large percentage of Christians or a Christian heritage. Only 1/2 of 1% of the Japanese population is estimated to be Christian, with the majority of Japanese being tolerant of all faiths: Buddhism, Christianity, Shinto, and so on. In spite of this, the Japanese are great lovers of festivals and celebrations, including Christmas.
December 25th is not a national holiday in Japan, although December 23rd, which is the birthdate of the present emperor, is. Although it is not an official holiday the Japanese tend to celebrate Christmas, especially in a commercial way. The Japanese celebrate Christmas Eve by eating a "Christmas Cake" which the father of the family purchases on his way home from work (or his wife does in the case where he has to work on Christmas Eve).
Stores all over carry versions of this Christmas cake and drop the price of it drastically on December 25th in order to sell everything out by the 26th. This has resulted in a rather interesting expression in which young girls are referred to as a "Christmas Cakes" -- marriageable until their 25th birthday and requiring heavy discounts to get married after their 25th birthdays.
In recent years, thanks to the marketing prowess of the folks at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Christmas Chicken Dinner has become quite popular. Many Japanese even make reservations for their "Christmas Chicken" ahead of time. People line up at their outlets to pick up their orders. As a result of KFC's brilliant advertising campaign, most Japanese now believe that Westerners celebrate Christmas with a chicken dinner instead of the more common ham or turkey.
by Billy Hammond Duncan
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