With a variety over 1.7 billion candy canes produced each year, its long history is rooted in Christmas, and several legends are difficult to unravel. Here is a summary of that 350-year history of candy canes, and how the candy cane, regardless of the real history, has become a holiday icon.
The earliest record of the candy cane is clearly in Germany. In 1670 a Choir Master at the Cologne Cathedral gave out unflavored candy sticks to keep children quiet during Christmas mass and living creche ceremonies. Then there are additional parts of the legend that may or may not be valid. Some legends say the Choir Master was told to stop handing out candy to the children. The Choir Master had the idea of shaping the stick as a staff connecting it to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The church’s leadership bought into this, and it spread as a popular tradition in Christian churches throughout Europe. Many churches around the world have this tradition today. Many believe that peppermint is the chosen symbolic flavor because a similar plant called the hyssop in the Bible was used for purification.
An Indiana Legend
In the United States of America, another legend would have us believe that a candy maker in Indiana made the Christmas candy cane. This candy maker then took a stick of pure white candy, shaping it into a ‘J’ and adding red stripes to add several additional Christian symbols. The white center of the new cane was to symbolize the virgin birth and Jesus’s sinless nature. The shape was to represent Jesus’s name and serve as a reminder that he is our Savior. The three thin stripes represent the pain and torture Jesus received before his death on the cross. The broad red stripe stands for the bloodshed by Jesus on the cross, which promises eternal life. Strangely, there is not a specific year attached to this story.
Mass-production of candy canes started in the 1920s, particularly after the first machine was made to easily curve, twist, and cut consistent canes. At the same time, candy canes started to be seen on Christmas cards, sometimes noted as a clever marketing ploy. As popularity spread, legends continued to carry on, and the candy cane became an icon of Christmastime.
In recent years, candy canes show up in decorating, including flower arrangements, candles, wreaths, and to liven up wrapped gifts. As for eating, they also serve as more than just candy to suck on. Leftover candy canes, or broken ones, can be crushed up to use as a topping or added into cookies before baking.
Candy Cane Fun Facts
- The candy cane was first mentioned in association with Christmas in 1874.
- The first documented use of candy canes as decorations was in 1882, on a Christmas tree.
- The red and white striped candy canes were first made around 1900.
- In 2011, the world’s largest candy cane was created and stood 51 feet tall.
- December 26th is National Candy Cane Day in the United States.
- Candy Canes vary in size but are usually 5 to 6 inches tall and about half an ounce
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Eveleth, Rose. “We Don’t Know the Origins of the Candy Cane, But They Almost Certainly Were Not Christian“. Smithsonian. Retrieved: September 12, 2020.
Kennedy, Lesley. “Who Invented Candy Canes?” History. Retrieved: September 11, 2020.
Parkinson, Eleanor (1844). The complete confectioner, pastry … – Eleanor Parkinson – Google Books. Retrieved: September 12, 2020.