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The Origin of Candy Canes and Their Ties to Christianity

These holiday candies are as popular as ever, but not everyone agrees on whether on not they have a religious significance.

These holiday candies are as popular as ever, but not everyone agrees on whether on not they have a religious significance.

Candy Canes Are a Holiday Staple

Candy canes are a staple of the holiday season, so it comes as no surprise that more are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas than at any other time of the year. Many people use them as decorations on Christmas trees, while others give them out as treats. The sugary sticks used to exist exclusively in red and white but now can be found in various colors. Red and White are Christmas staples.

When Were Candy Canes Invented?

Candy canes are believed to have been created by a German choirmaster who gave white candy sticks to unruly choirboys to keep them quiet. Allegedly, the church board did not think sugary sticks were appropriate, so the choirmaster added the hook shape and said they were representative of a shepherd's staff. This was more acceptable because the Bible featured stories of shepherds who were the first to hear the news of the birth of Christ.

Susan Benjamin of True Treats Historic Candy says that the hook in the candy was added sometime around the 17th century in Germany. Still, she also states that there is no way to know for sure who actually made this modification.

The candies are often handed out with cards that explain their religious significance.

The candies are often handed out with cards that explain their religious significance.

When Did Candy Canes Become Associated With Christmas?

During the 20th century, red stripes and peppermint flavors were added in the United States. A magazine called Nursery Monthly mentioned that the candies were in association with Christmas in 1874. In 1882, a magazine called Babyland had mentioned them being hung on Christmas trees.

Are Candy Canes Religious Symbols?

For many individuals, the candy cane is simply a holiday treat and has no religious connotations. On the other side of the coin, it is common today for churches to pass out them with a small card attached that tells a story.

The card typically alleges that the cane is in the shape of a J to honor the birth of Jesus. For this, reason quite a number of people believe this to be a fact. Susan Benjamin disagrees and calls this religious view an urban legend with no basis in reality. Even so, every year during the holiday season, the story is told that the candy cane is a J for Jesus when held one direction and a shepherds staff (to honor the shepherd's who went to Bethlehem to see the Christ child in the manger) when held in the other direction.

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There is also a tale that says the red and white stripes represent the blood of Christ and His making us pure through His resurrection. Snopes says these stories are urban legends, but this doesn't stop those who believe in the symbolism.

Candy Cane Controversy

Decades ago, children used to receive them in church and at school during Christmas time. The separation of church and state is being enforced now more than ever, so religious Christmas decorations of any kind are banned in most public schools.

In 2018, Jennifer Sinclair, a Nebraska principal, banned these candies because she said they were shaped like a J to represent Jesus. Sinclair was placed on leave and did not return to her job. She had likely also heard that the red and white striped sugar canes stood for the blood of Christ and His resurrection.

At first, they were white. Later on, the red stripes and peppermint flavor were added. Nowadays, they come in a variety of colors and flavors.

At first, they were white. Later on, the red stripes and peppermint flavor were added. Nowadays, they come in a variety of colors and flavors.

What Do Candy Canes Mean to You?

Like beauty, the meaning of a candy cane is in the eye of the beholder. Those who see the candy cane as a simple sweet treat do not care one bit about where it originated or why. Believers who desire to see Christ as the message behind this sugary snack will continue to do so. Whether it is a fact or fancy, using these candies to tell the story of the birth and resurrection of Christ is a wonderful way to spread the gospel. Please consider passing this on during this holiday season.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Cheryl E Preston

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 01, 2020:

The churches I attended never handed out candy canes or used them in the manner you described. Interesting!

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