While Christmas may not be a national holiday per se, there’s no lack of festive cheer in Japan come Christmastime. Many traditional Christmas decorations, such as bells, holly and reindeer, are featured on sweets and cakes at this time of year, while other ‘Christmas foods’ are simply suited for the winter season. We explore some of Japan‘s favorite foods during the Christmas season.
Possibly because of its festive white-and-red coloring, strawberry shortcakes have become the unofficial Christmas Eve dessert in Japan, and many families will share one together in the evening after everyone has come home from work. Generic Christmas cakes can be found at the grocery store, while specialty bakeries and confectionery shops will have their own take on this Christmas specialty.
Hot saké is traditionally a wintertime drink and it’s rather difficult to get this tradition wrong. Because heating the saké masks the flavor of low-quality liquor, it’s okay not to use the best of the best when observing this tradition. A sweeter saké pairs well with creamy or salty foods, while a balanced sweetness goes well with lightly grilled or smoked meats.
Wagashi, a traditional Japanese sweet already known for changing with the seasons, is well-suited to a Christmas make-over. Japanese confectioners create wagashi and manjū in festive shapes, like reindeer, Santa, holly leaves, puddings and snowmen. The flavors inside, however, will usually remain traditional, like red bean, burdock root and green tea to name a few.
Mid-November to mid-January is yuzu season, which means that winter is prime time for this Japanese citrus. Luckily, those eager for a dose of its Vitamin C won’t have to go far to find it – from yuzu-flavored KitKat and yōkan (agar jelly cake) to cold-curing yuzu tea and yuzu-shaped cakes, you’ll come across it in abundance during Christmastime.
Chicken, and KFC in particular, is so popular around Christmastime that many families pre-order their dinners weeks in advance. The tradition of eating KFC at Christmas began in the 1970s with the company’s advertising campaign ‘Kentucky For Christmas.’ Special Christmas dinner deals from KFC include cake and sparkling wine.
Christmas Eve in Japan is the time to make one’s romantic feelings known. On this Valentine’s Day-esque evening, young couples dress up and head out to a fancy restaurant for a date. Christmas Eve’s reputation for being an auspicious day for love and couples is widespread, and it has become so ingrained in the culture that it can often be hard to find a seat when trying to eat out on this jovial night.