Cheryl is a poet, freelance writer, former newspaper columnist, licensed/ordained minister, and founder of two outreach ministries.
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 a variety of colors.
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, but she also states that there is no way to know for sure who actually made this modification.
When Did Candy Canes Become Associated With Christmas?
During the 20th century, the red stripes and peppermint flavor were added to candy canes in the United States. A magazine called Nursery Monthly mentioned candy canes in association with Christmas in 1874. In 1882, a magazine called Babyland mentioned them being hung on Christmas trees.
Are Candy Canes Religious Symbols?
For many, 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 candy canes 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 shepherds who went to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus in the manger) when held in the other direction.
There is also a tale that says the red and white stripes on the candy cane 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 candy canes 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 candy canes 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.
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 fact or fancy, using the candy cane to tell the story of the birth and resurrection of Christ is a wonderful way to spread the gospel.
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
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!