Christmas in Japan is\u2014like many things in the country\u2014a little wacky. Stores deck the halls with boughs of holly, baubles and all of that, and carols float out over the speakers. There are beautifully illuminated Christmas trees, and you can find roast chestnuts, mulled wine and all of the other ingredients for a winter wonderland. Except it\u2019s not at all religious (except for the small population of Christians in Japan), it\u2019s not a holiday, and it\u2019s not really about family. The 24th sees celebrations, but these involve romantic dinners for couples at KFC. Incidentally, it\u2019s one of the busiest nights for love hotels. Here\u2019s a look at the making of Xmas in Japan. 1549: St. Francis Xavier comes to Japan, tries to bring Christianity with him St. Francis Xavier rolled into Kagoshima as Japan\u2019s first Jesuit missionary. Despite some success in converting Japanese people to Christianity, the land\u2019s Buddhist and Shinto religions won out\u2014and even today, less than 1% of the population are Christian. It\u2019s believed that the first Christmas celebrations in Japan were held in the first few years after St. Francis Xavier\u2019s arrival. 1614: Christianity is banned, Christmas is canceled Increasingly suspicious of Christianity, the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu banned the religion, and practitioners were badly persecuted. Christmas fell away, except perhaps in celebrations by secret Christians\u2014kakure Kirishitan. 1871 (+-): Japan re-opens its doors to the world, Santa Claus is back in town When Japan re-opened its doors to the world during the Meiji Restoration (from 1868 onward), a lot of big changes were made in society. One of these was the enshrining of religious freedom, which meant that Christianity and customs like Christmas could be practiced once again. 1939-1945: WWII means bad business for \u201cAmerican\u201d Christmas During World War II, all things deemed American and celebratory fizzled out\u2014including, it would seem, Christmas. Post-war period: Christmas cake\u2019s big break With the American influence in the years of rebuilding after the war, Christmas suddenly exploded into a popular event\u2014albeit a secular, commerce-oriented one (wait, what\u2019s so different here about that?). The Japanese take on a traditional Christmas cake emerged and quickly became established as a central feature of Xmas celebrations that you\u2019ll still see today. It\u2019s typically a round sponge cake decorated with red and white icing (have you had a look at the Japanese flag recently?) and is eaten by families and couples alike on Christmas Eve. Here\u2019s an academic paper on the cake, if you\u2019re interested. Stollen has also became a popular Xmas treat. 1974: \u201cKentucky for Christmas!\u201d \u2013 KFC becomes the holiday meal of choice Word is that a bunch of foreign tourists were wandering around looking for turkey for their Christmas dinner but couldn\u2019t find any, so they settled on fried chicken. KFC\u2019s marketing department heard about this and decided to punt their food as the Christmas meal, using the rather unremarkable slogan \u201cKentucky for Christmas!\u201d And that was that\u2014the whole country adopted a new Christmas tradition that continues today. People order their slightly-fancier-than-usual finger-licking-good meals months in advance and enjoy them with wine or champagne\u2014and of course, a slice of that Christmas cake. Present day: Illuminations, markets and Christmas cheer abound You\u2019ll be hard-pressed to avoid the Christmas season in Japan nowadays. Decoration-donning stores, elaborate light-ups, German-style Christmas markets\u2014and of course Colonel Santa\u2014can be found at every turn.