What can be more traditional than watching Donald Duck on Christmas? In Sweden, not much:
Three years ago, I went to Sweden with my then-girlfriend (now-wife), to meet her family and celebrate my first Christmas. As an only partially lapsed Jew, I was not well-versed in Christmas traditions, and I was completely ignorant of Swedish customs and culture. So I was prepared for surprises. I was not prepared for this: Every year on Dec. 24 at 3 p.m., half of Sweden sits down in front of the television for a family viewing of the 1958Â Walt Disney PresentsChristmas special, “From All of Us to All of You.” Or as it is known inÂ Sverige, Kalle Anka och hans vÃ¤nner Ã¶nskar God Jul: “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.”
Kalle Anka, for short, has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time on Sweden’s main public-television channel, TV1, on Christmas Eve (when Swedes traditionally celebrate the holiday) since 1959. The show consists of Jiminy Cricket presenting about a dozen Disney cartoons from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, only a couple of which have anything to do with Christmas. There are “Silly Symphonies” shorts and clips from films likeÂ Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, andÂ The Jungle Book.The special is pretty much the same every year, except for the live introduction by a host (who plays the role of Walt Disney from the originalÂ Walt Disney Presents series) and the annual addition of one new snippet from the latest Disney-produced movie, which TV1’s parent network, SVT, is contractually obligated by Disney to air.
WatchingÂ Kalle Anka for the first time, I was taken aback not only by the datedness of the clips (and the somewhat randomÂ dubbing) but also by how seriously my adoptive Swedish family took the show. Nobody talked, except to recite favorite lines along with the characters. My soon-to-be father-in-law, a burly man built like aÂ Scandinavian spruce, laughed at jokes he had obviously heard scores of times before. Nobody blinked at the antiquated animation, the cheesiness of the stories, or even the good-old-fashionedÂ ’30s-era Disney-style racism. (In the 1932 “Silly Symphonies” short “Santa’s Workshop,” there is a scene involving a black doll who yells “Mammy” at the sight of Santa Claus then moons the screen. It was eventually censored from the American version of the cartoon but remains inÂ Kalle Anka.)
The show’s cultural significance cannot be overstated.* You do not tape or DVRÂ Kalle Ankafor later viewing. You do not eat or prepare dinner while watchingÂ Kalle Anka. Age does not matterâ€”every member of the family is expected to sit quietly together and watch a program that generations of Swedes have been watching for 50 years. Most families plan their entire Christmas aroundÂ Kalle Anka, from theÂ SmÃ¶rgÃ¥sbord at lunch to the post-Kallevisit fromÂ Jultomten. “At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, you can’t to do anything else, because Sweden is closed,” Lena KÃ¤ttstrÃ¶m HÃ¶Ã¶k, a curator at the Nordic Museum who manages the “Traditions” exhibit, told me. “So even if you don’t want to watch it yourself, you can’t call anyone else or do anything else, because no one will do it with you.”
In Japan, they celebrate with the Kentucky Colonel:
Itâ€™s Christmas Eve in Japan. Little boys and girls pull on their coats, the twinkle of anticipation in their eyes. Keeping the tradition alive, they will trek with their families to feast at â€¦ the popular American fast food chain KFC.
Christmas isnâ€™t a national holiday in Japanâ€”only one percentÂ of the Japanese population is estimated to be Christianâ€”yet aÂ bucket of â€œChristmas Chickenâ€ (the next best thing to turkeyâ€”a meat you canâ€™t find anywhere in Japan) is the go-to meal on the big day. And itâ€™s all thanks to the insanely successful â€œKurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!â€ (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign in 1974.
When a group of foreigners couldnâ€™t find turkey on Christmas day and opted for fried chicken instead, the company saw this as a prime commercial opportunity and launched its first Christmas meal that year: Chicken and wine for
8342,920 yen($10)â€”pretty pricey for the mid-seventies. Today the christmas chicken dinner (which now boasts cake and champagne) goes for about 3,336 yen ($40).
And the people come in droves. Many order their boxes of Â â€finger lickinâ€™â€Â holiday cheer months in advance to avoid the linesâ€”some as long as two hours.
The first KFC JapanÂ opened in NagoyaÂ in 1970 and quickly gained popularity. (There are now over 15,000 KFC outlets in 105 countries and territories around the world.) That same year, at theÂ World Exposition inÂ Osaka, KFC and other American fast food chains like McDonaldâ€™s were met with great market testing results and helped jump start the westernized â€œfast foodâ€ movement in Japan. After the big commercial push in â€™74, the catchphrase â€œChristmas=Kentuckyâ€ paired with plenty of commercials on TV caught on.