A pedestrian holding an umbrella walks near a statue of Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan Ltd. restaurant in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017.
Tomohiro Ohsumi —Bloomberg via Getty Images
December 30, 2019 1:00 PM EST

If you happen to swing by the grave of KFC founder Col. Harland Sanders at the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, you may see buckets of chicken sitting atop his memorial. In Japan, though, you may see statues of Col. Sanders at a memorial service for KFC Japan’s chickens.

While KFC is known for their oddball promotions and PR stunts, the chicken memorial is not that. According to English-language Japanese news site SoraNews24, each year KFC Japan holds an annual memorial service for the brave chickens whose lives were lost in service of sating Japan’s hunger for fried chicken.

The memorial service, known as Chicken Thanksgiving, is an annual event that has reportedly taken place since 1974, as a way for the company to give thanks for the birds. Each year to mark the solemn occasion, per SoraNews24, the president of KFC Japan and other high-ranking executives in the company as well as “key people along the supply chain such as meat processors, sales reps, and seasoning producers,” gather at one of Japan’s temples to appreciate, remember, and honor the chickens that are so valuable to their business. They also “pray for safe and healthy meat during the following year.”

While Chicken Thanksgiving is a long standing tradition, according to SoraNews24, the memorials aren’t particularly well known even in Japan.

The memorial is typically held in early summer, but it is in the news now because many Japanese families mark Christmas with buckets of KFC, thanks to a clever businessman, a white lie, and a marketing campaign, according to Business Insider who reported the story for their podcast. The chain first came to Japan in 1970, opening a branch in Nagoya, which was saved when the businessman convinced his Japanese market that people in the U.S. marked Christmas with buckets of KFC.

The idea caught on and come 1974, KFC Japan launched a marketing campaign promoting “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” or “Kentucky for Christmas!”, which helped turned buckets of chicken from a fast food dinner to an annual holiday feast. Now, the tradition is so popular that the chain relies on it for a third of its annual income, per the BBC.

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