CHARLOTTE, N.C., November 29, 2017 – Time often has a way of altering a story into an appealing legend that has little basis in reality. Such is the case with the significance of the candy cane, which, on the surface, has inspirational links to the Christmas story. But sadly, these links have little basis in truth.
The Legend of the Candy Cane
According to legend, the idea behind the candy cane arose around 1670. That year, the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral on Germany’s Rhine River sought to reduce the noise made by children during the living creche pageant held annually on Christmas Eve.
The solution came when the choirmaster went to the local candy maker and asked him to make some “sugar sticks” that he could pass out before the worship service. To justify his creation, he asked the candy maker to add a bend at the top of the stick to represent a shepherd’s crook in honor of the visitors who came to the manger in Bethlehem.
The resulting “candy cane” soon caught on in other countries. This holiday candy treat quickly became a popular Christmas tradition throughout Europe.
Thus the candy cane at Christmas is a holiday tradition starting from the very beginning.
Symbols of the Candy Cane
Before long, other religious meanings to the simple confection were born. The crook was said to be symbolic of the Wise Men who came to the nativity to see the Christ Child. It also allows the candy to be hung from the boughs of Christmas trees.
Others claimed that the candy cane, when turned upside-down, formed the shape of the letter “J” or the first letter in Jesus’ name.
Still, others believed the bend in the candy was representative of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” who watched over his children like lambs in a flock.
Because candy canes were hard, it was said that they were solid like the rock upon which the foundation of the church was built.
From Hyssop to Stripes – the flavor of Candy Canes
Even the peppermint flavor of the candy cane has meaning to some. Hyssop, a member of the mint family known, is similar in taste to peppermint. In the Old Testament, hyssop was used for purification and sacrifice. Therefore the peppermint flavor in candy canes was said to symbolize the purity of Christ and the sacrifice he made for mankind.
In addition, the white color also represented the purity of the Virgin birth.
Later, the red stripes became symbolic of God’s love while three fine stripes represent the Holy Trinity.
Others claim the red color represented the blood of Christ at the time of the crucifixion.
Candy Canes in America
Candy canes made their way to America in the 1800’s where they became popular Christmas tree ornaments. The red stripes did not become a part of the tradition, however, until the early 20th century. On Christmas cards printed before 1900 candy canes, or sticks, are only white.
The United States contribution to the tradition was in 1919. Bob McCormack of Georgia began making candy canes for his family and friends leading to Bob’s Candies. McCormack’s brother-in-law, Gregory Harding Keller, a Catholic priest, was the inventor of the Keller Machine which automatically turned the straight sticks of candy into curved candy canes.
While all these variations on the story make for Christmas folklore, most of them are not verifiable.
Candy Cane Facts and Fictions
Much as the accounts of the 17th-century choirmaster gives the candy can a beginning, no one has been able to corroborate the story. Even the creation date is unknown.
The story of the candy cane, until the mid-20th century, is anecdotal.
As Snopes logically asks,
“One has to wonder how it is we supposedly know that one specific person invented the candy cane, we know where he lived, and we know precisely why he made candy canes the way he did, yet no one even knows his name.”
The invention of the Keller Machine is the only part of the candy cane legend that is verifiable.
Over the years Christian religious leaders have increasingly made claims about the accuracy of the candy cane’s religious symbolism.
And it is a good story and, after all, isn’t that really what the magic of Christmas is all about?
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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Lead Image: By Marco Verch – Zuckerstange, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45863762