By Mike Pomranz
Updated December 20, 2016
Colonel Sanders decked out for Christmas in Japan
Credit: ©KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images

Christmas is right around the corner, meaning people in Japan will be seeing plenty of that bearded old man decked out in red and white. I’m talking, of course, about Colonel Sanders. Oh, you thought I was talking about Santa Claus? So did I at first.

Once again proving I have no idea what happens in Japan, yesterday, the BBC published an article on the country’s obsession with eating KFC during Christmas time. “Every Christmas season an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families treat themselves to fried chicken from the American fast-food chain, in what has become a nationwide tradition,” the BBC reports. At some Japanese locations, sales are ten times higher in December, and residents put in advance orders for their special KFC Christmas dinners or risk waiting in line for hours. Apparently getting into a KFC in Japan during the holidays is tougher than getting your kid into Santa’s grotto at the mall.

So why KFC? The fast food brand tapped into that old Christmas tradition: heavy marketing. Back in 1970, future KFC Japan president and CEO Takeshi Okawara had the idea of marketing a Christmas Party Barrel of chicken as a substitute for the holiday tradition of eating turkey. In 1974, “Kentucky for Christmas” became a national promotion and the Japanese took to the concept. “It filled a void,” Joonas Rokka, an associate professor of marketing who studied the phenomenon, told the BBC. “There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said, this is what you should do on Christmas.”

Today, Kentucky Christmas dinner packages are much more than simply buckets of chicken; they can also include sides, cake and even wine, ranging in price from $32 to about $50. Remarkably, “the packages account for about a third of the chain’s yearly sales in Japan,” writes the BBC. In the States, we sit around waiting for an old dude with a white beard to give us free stuff; in Japan, turns out an old dude with a white beard is the one who’s making a killing.