Kentucky Fried Christmas, and more Yuletide craziness around the world

By Ewan McDonald

The KFC Party Barrel has become a Japanese phenomenon, one of many new ways to mark the season.
The KFC Party Barrel has become a Japanese phenomenon, one of many new ways to mark the season.
Mince pies, stockings and singing carols are Christmas traditions. But new festive rituals are rising around the world …

Blame those American rom-coms: open-air skating is becoming a thing across Britain.

Suddenly, every major city seems to have an outdoor skating rink for up to three months.

“We’ve been open for nine years now, and numbers seem to be increasing,” says Vicky Pepys of Skating@Life, Manchester, which has 70,000 visitors over 15 weeks. It’s become a yearly tradition. People ask, when is it opening?”

There’s a nostalgia about skating that evokes American movies, she says, at a time of year when people are happy to escape the stresses of the season.

“It’s got that romance that you associate with Central Park in New York, especially at night, when there’s sparkling lights and music playing, and hot chocolate in the cafe downstairs.”

Another new import: Christmas markets can now be found across the UK, with all manner of crafts and festive “Glühwein” (mulled wine) to fend off the cold. The largest is in the distinctly un-European city of Birmingham.

One British tradition was dumped this year – Simon Cowell’s domination of the Yuletide pop charts. Thanks to a Facebook campaign, the 1992 Rage Against The Machine hit Killing in the Name became the Christmas No 1 ahead of the X Factor single The Climb by Joe McElderry.Japan takes the, er, cake for the strangest new Christmas celebration: the Kentucky Fried Christmas.

It may seem odd anywhere outside Japan, but millions would never let a Christmas go by without the 11 secret herbs and spices.

KFC’s special Christmas dinner has to be ordered weeks in advance; those who don’t will wait in line, sometimes for hours.

It’s all thanks to Takeshi Okawara, manager of the country’s first KFC. Shortly after it opened in 1970, Okawara jotted down an idea that came to him in a dream: a “party barrel” to be sold at Christmas.

In 1974 KFC took the marketing plan national, calling it Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, or Kentucky for Christmas. The “Party Barrel” became a national phenomenon.

It also helped the stores dressed Colonel Sanders in Santa outfits. In a country that puts high value on its elders, the red satin-suited Sanders soon became a symbol of a holiday.

Finally, here’s something that’s not a tradition yet, but you can bet the Kiwi family involved hope it will be.

A Waikato woman will surprise her family with her $200,561 Lotto first and third divisions win in last Saturday’s draw.

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, plays her own numbers each week and uses her family’s birth dates as her lucky numbers.

“I have been using these numbers for years, and while they have bought me some luck, I never thought I would actually win a big amount.

“We’re having the family over for lunch on Christmas Day, so the plan is to give everyone a card with a cheque inside — we just can’t wait to see the surprise on their faces when they find out we won Lotto.”


1 Coca-Cola designed Santa Claus

Coca-Cola did start using Santa in advertising in 1933, but most of his modern image was put together by cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870s.

2 Jingle Bells is a Christmas song

Jingle Bells was written by James Pierpont in 1857 – about Thanksgiving.

3 There were three wise men

The Bible never says how many magi there were. Magi were Zoroastrians believed to be well-versed in mysterious arts, hence “magic”.

4 Christmas was a Roman festival

There was a Roman festival on 25 December, Sol Invictus. But there were Roman festivals on more than 200 days of the year.

5 Good King Wenceslas

Wenceslas existed, but he wasn’t a king and he wasn’t called Wenceslas. The legends of goodness arose around Vaclav, 10th century duke of Bohemia in modern Czechia.

6 Kissing under the mistletoe

According to tradition, the Norse god Baldr was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe and his mother, the goddess Frigg, swore the plant should never harm anybody else and should encourage kissing instead. Wrong: it’s an English tradition from sometime in the 1700s.

7 Christmas starts earlier every year

There’s nothing in the Bible about Jesus’ birthdate. A 2nd century calculation reckoned it was in March.

8 Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Charles Wesley wrote the hymn, “Hark how all the welkin rings/Glory to the king of kings”. To his annoyance, another preacher, George Whitefield, cribbed the tune and wrote a version with that line.

9 Advent begins on 1 December

The idea that it starts on the same day every year was put about by makers of Advent calendars, so they could use the same design each year and sell off old stock.

10 Prince Albert invented the Christmas tree

This would have surprised Queen Victoria, who had a Christmas tree as a child. Victoria and Albert popularised the idea when they were pictured with one in 1848. A Christmas tree was recorded in England in 1444, but nobody knows what it was doing there.


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