Christmas is a celebration that is heavy with symbolism. There is any number of traditional Christmas symbols that we enjoy without really knowing their origin. For example, why do we use wreaths at Christmas? Why a tree? Where did mistletoe get started? One that is recognized by everyone both young and old is the Candy Cane. The candy cane is one of the holiday’s most popular symbols and it is a perennial favorite with children. But do you know how it came to be associated with the Christmas holiday?
It is said that the candy’s Christmas history goes as far back as the 1670s. At that time candy canes were actually candy sticks. They were straight and tall and all white. The story goes that a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany was having a difficult time each year managing boisterous children during his Christmas Eve program.
Since handing out candy in church was generally frowned upon, the choirmaster had the sugar canes bent into the shape of a shepherd’s staff. Giving the children a symbol associated with the Christmas story reinforced the nativity tale and had the added benefit of keeping the little ones quiet and content during the program. It soon became popular all across Europe to give children a sugar candy cane during Christmas Eve service.
The candy cane made its way to America with the German immigrants who came to this country in the 1800s. Hanging sugar canes, which were still completely white, all over the Christmas tree caught on quickly. We know that the canes were still unstriped because inspirational greeting cards of that day depicted them as pure, snowy white.
By the 1900s red stripes were added to the canes which were now hanging from the mantel greenery, the Christmas tree and peeking out of Christmas stockings. At this point there is some division over the precise meaning of the candy cane’s shape and color.
Some say that the candy canes are flavored with peppermint because of its similarity to hyssop. Hyssop is often mentioned in the Bible where it is associated with sacrifices and purification.
The red stripes, it is said, represent the sacrifice of Jesus – His own shed blood.
The white stripes represent the purity of Jesus – He was a sinless sacrifice for sinners.
Some say that the candy cane has the shape of a shepherd’s staff because the angels first appeared to shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth. Others point to Jesus Himself as the Great Shepherd of the sheep (the church). Still others make note of the fact that when the candy cane is looked at upside down it is the letter J which, of course, is the first letter of Jesus’ name.
Now that you know the legend of the candy cane, why not share the story with others this year. The Printery House offers a terrific selection of inspirational greeting cards including one that tells the story of the candy cane!