According to the National Confectioners Association, alwaysatreat.com, candy canes are the No. 1-selling non-chocolate candy during the month of December. The biggest single week for candy canes? The second week of December. “Likely because most people decorate their Christmas trees that week,” says Carly Schildhaus, public affairs manager for the NCA. Since today is National Candy Cane Day, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on the history of this iconic candy.
But just when and how candy canes got their start is a bit more uncertain than their popularity (1.76 billion candy canes are produced in the United States annually). Today, there’s nothing more iconic when it comes to candy than the alternating red and white stripes of the candy cane, but, according to Schildhaus, for 200 years, before mass-production was automated, they came in just one color, white.
Legend has it that the candy cane dates back to 1670, when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the Living Creche ceremony. In honor of the occasion, he bent the white candies into shepherds’ crooks.
Another legend suggests that red stripes were added to the white hard candies. In the early 17oo’s, there was said to be a ban on public displays of Christianity. Christians were oppressed and no Bibles or crosses could be owned at the time. One man found this oppression distressing and wished he could share the love of Jesus and the joy of Christmas with the rest of the world.
When Christmas came around, children didn’t get to see nativity scenes or enjoy learning about the truth of Christmas. As a candy maker, this man prayed to find a way that he could offer local children a Christmas gift that would allow him to communicate the real story of Christmas. A secret language developed amongst the Christian faithful depending on the stripe—three represented the trinity, one Jesus’ sacrifice.
The candy cane made its U.S. debut in 1847 in Wooster Ohio, according to Schildhaus, when August Imgard, a German-Swedish immigrant, decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes.
At the turn of the century, the legend added the story of a candy maker in Indiana who designed the candy with both red and white stripes hoping to create a Christmas treat to proclaim the truths of Christ and God’s great love.
The Main Point
No matter the reason, history or progression of the candy cane, the story that has developed around it is poignant. It serves as a sweet illustration for telling the Gospel story.
White – Jesus was pure and holy; He was without sin.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.Hebrews 4:15
The white is also a picture of how God washes our sins away and makes us white as snow when we trust in Jesus as our Savior.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”Isaiah 1:18
Red – The red, of course, is a picture of the blood Jesus shed for each of us.
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.Luke 22:20
Stripes – Wide red stripes were added to the candy cane, representative of the stripes on His back as He was beaten.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.Isaiah 53:5
Hard – The candy maker chose hard candy for the candy cane, which was done to remind children that Jesus was our “rock,” dependable and strong
For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;Psalm 31:3
Shape – He chose to make the candy cane in the shape of a shepherd’s staff. After all, Jesus is the shepherd to his followers and the Bible notes that the “sheep” would hear His voice and follow him.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.Psalm 100:3
Letter J – if you turn the candy cane upside down though, it makes a J for Jesus!
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.Matthew 1:21
Fragrance – Peppermint was very similar to hyssop, which was used for sacrifice and purification in the Old Testament, reminding us of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.Psalm 51:7
Share His Love
Although no one is quite sure if the legend of the candy cane is really true, the beauty of the legend is such a reminder of God’s love for us around Christmas. In this legend, it was a way that the candy maker could tell the children the story of Christmas and still today, we have candy canes as a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.
So give someone a candy cane to celebrate the day and share the love of Christ while you’re at it!
May your days be merry and bright!