5 Japanese Christmas Dishes: May Surprise You

by Ella

Christmas is a globally celebrated holiday that brings joy, togetherness, and delicious feasts to tables around the world. While many countries have their own unique culinary traditions associated with Christmas, Japan’s approach to this holiday is a fascinating blend of cultural influences, creating a distinctive and delightful Christmas dining experience. In this article, we delve into the intriguing world of what Japanese people eat for Christmas, exploring the history, dishes, and customs that shape this festive season.

When and how is Christmas celebrated in Japan?

Before we get to the food, we should briefly talk about how the holiday is celebrated here. Firstly, when Japanese people talk about Christmas, they are almost exclusively talking about December 24th (Christmas Eve). Neither December 24th nor 25th are public holidays in Japan, so festivities usually take place in the evening of the 24th after work and school.


Christmas in Japan is largely considered a date night for couples (an early Valentine’s Day, if you will) and usually comprises of going out to dinner and visiting a date spot (typically “winter illuminations” or seasonal light displays). Groups of friends are increasingly celebrating together too (sometimes doing a Secret Santa gift exchange), and families with children will usually spend the evening at home with takeout or Western-influenced food and the kids opening their gifts from Santa.


Since December 25th is business as usual and often falls on a weekday, these Christmas Eve get-togethers are usually done by about 9 or 10pm so everyone can get ready to go to the office or school the next day. In fact, it’s common to see Christmas displays being pulled down on the morning of the 25th and replaced with New Year decorations.


5 Japanese Christmas Dishes

In Japan, Christmas is not a traditional holiday in the same way it is celebrated in Western countries. However, over the years, some Western Christmas traditions have been adopted, including the concept of enjoying special meals during the holiday season.


1. Fried Chicken (KFC Christmas Set):

As previously mentioned, KFC’s “Kentucky for Christmas” marketing campaign in the 1970s greatly influenced the association of fried chicken with Christmas in Japan. Many Japanese families order KFC Christmas sets that include fried chicken pieces, salad, biscuits, and cake for dessert. This tradition has become so popular that pre-ordering KFC for Christmas is a common practice.

2. Christmas Cake:

A quintessential Japanese Christmas tradition is enjoying a beautifully decorated Christmas cake. These cakes are typically light sponge cakes layered with whipped cream and adorned with strawberries or other fruits. They come in various sizes and designs and are a centerpiece of Christmas celebrations.

3. Roast Chicken or Turkey:

While not as widespread as KFC, roast chicken or turkey has also become a popular choice for Christmas dinners in Japan. Families may prepare a roast chicken or turkey, often seasoned with Japanese flavors like soy sauce and mirin, along with various sides and accompaniments.

4. Hot Pot (Nabe):

Hot pot, or “nabe,” is a beloved winter dish in Japan and has found its way into Christmas celebrations as well. Families gather around a simmering pot of broth and cook a variety of ingredients like thinly sliced meats, tofu, vegetables, and mushrooms. This communal and comforting meal adds warmth and togetherness to the festive occasion.

5. Cream Stew or Gratin:

Creamy dishes like cream stew and gratin are also enjoyed during the Christmas season in Japan. Cream stew consists of a rich white sauce with chunks of meat, vegetables, and sometimes sausage. Gratin features layers of ingredients like pasta, seafood, and vegetables, covered with a creamy cheese sauce and baked until golden and bubbly.

FAQs about Japanese Christmas dishes

Q1. Why is KFC so popular during Christmas in Japan?

KFC’s popularity during Christmas in Japan is largely attributed to a successful marketing campaign in the 1970s that promoted “Kentucky for Christmas.” The campaign created a strong association between fried chicken and Christmas celebrations. Over the years, the tradition of ordering KFC Christmas sets has become deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, making it a sought-after meal during the holiday season.

Q2. What is a traditional Japanese Christmas cake?

A traditional Japanese Christmas cake is a light and fluffy sponge cake layered with whipped cream and adorned with strawberries or other fruits. The cake is beautifully decorated and often features festive designs. It’s a centerpiece of Christmas celebrations in Japan and is enjoyed by families and friends during holiday gatherings.

Q3. Are there specific ingredients used in Japanese Christmas dishes?

While there are no strict rules for the ingredients used in Japanese Christmas dishes, some common ingredients include chicken (for fried chicken or roast), strawberries (for decorating Christmas cakes), vegetables (for hot pot dishes), and various meats and seafood for creamy stews and gratins. Japanese flavors and cooking techniques may be incorporated into these dishes to create a unique blend of flavors.

Q4. Is Christmas a major holiday in Japan like it is in Western countries?

Christmas is not a major holiday in Japan in the same way it is celebrated in Western countries. It’s not a public holiday, and the celebrations are more commercial and secular. The focus is on enjoying festive decorations, exchanging gifts, and indulging in special meals. The concept of Christmas is often associated with romance, and couples may celebrate it as a romantic occasion.

See Also: Best Sushi Rolls Recipes to Make At Home: A How-To Guide

Q5. Are there any other popular Japanese dishes enjoyed during Christmas?

In addition to the dishes mentioned earlier, some families in Japan might enjoy sushi, sashimi, or other seafood dishes during Christmas. However, the specific dishes can vary widely based on personal preferences and cultural influences. The emphasis is often on creating a festive and special atmosphere through the food, regardless of whether the dishes are traditional or more modern.

See Also: Sashimi: History, Types, Features & Eating Methods

Q6. Do Japanese Christmas dishes have religious significance?

Christmas in Japan is not primarily associated with religious celebrations, as Christianity is a minority religion in the country. The focus is more on the cultural and commercial aspects of the holiday. As a result, the dishes enjoyed during Christmas in Japan are not tied to religious significance but rather to creating a joyful and festive atmosphere for friends and family.

Q7. Can I find Japanese Christmas dishes outside of Japan?

Japanese Christmas dishes like KFC Christmas sets and Christmas cakes have gained popularity beyond Japan, especially in countries with a significant Japanese expatriate community. Additionally, some Japanese restaurants or international food markets might offer these dishes during the holiday season. However, availability can vary depending on location and cultural preferences.


Japanese Christmas cuisine offers a captivating blend of tradition, innovation, and international flavors. From enjoying KFC and beautifully crafted Christmas cakes to savoring hot pot gatherings and exploring global tastes, Japan’s approach to Christmas dining reflects its rich cultural tapestry and openness to embracing the festive spirit. As the holiday season approaches, Japanese families come together to create lasting memories and celebrate the joy of togetherness through their uniquely delicious traditions.



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