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 candies into shepherd’s crooks.

Susan Benjamin, founder of True Treats Historic Candy, truetreatscandy.com, and author of “Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Pleasure,” agrees the candy cane most likely took shape in the 17th century Europe when pulled sugars, the parent to today’s sugar sticks, were all the rage. It was at that time, somewhere in Germany, that a hook was added to the stick, she says.

“The church board complained, sweets are not appropriate at so solemn a place as a church,” Benjamin explains. “So, the choirmaster added a hook, making the stick resemble a staff, a religious reference that would calm the board’s concern.”

Benjamin also cites the theory that a German choirmaster gave candy sticks to still his fidgety choirboys during services. (“It was a gentler form of enticement than whacking them with a switch,”) she says.

Most agree, the white candy cane made its U.S. debut in 1847 in Wooster, Ohio when August Imgard, a German-Swedish immigrant, decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes. 

Today, there’s nothing more iconic when it come to candy than the alternating red and white stripes of the candy cane, but for 200 years and before mass-production was automated, all candy canes came in just one color: white.

“At the turn of the 20th century, the red stripes, and peppermint flavor, emerged as the most popular choice,”  Benjamin said. She attributes the red and white stripes to good marketing.

In fact, according to the National Confectioners Associations (NCA), alwaysatreat.com candy canes are the number one-selling non-chocolate candy during the month of December, with 90 percent of the red and white stripped treats sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The biggest single week for candy canes is the second week of December. “Likely becuase most people decorate their Christmas trees that week,” say Carly Schildhaus, public affairs manager for the NCA. Amazingly there are 1.76 billion candy canes produced in the United States annually.

With the stripe came legends of stories about the candy cane, such as it being a secret code among persecuted Christians in Germany or England in the 17th century; a secret language amongst the Christian faithful depending on the stripe, with three representing the Trinity, where one represented Jesus’ sacrifice, with the more general role of the stripe as the blood of Jesus.

Benjamin, when asked if this was true said, “True? I’m not sure.” Other theories contend the candy cane’s “J” shape is an homage to Jesus, but Benjamin says that’s an urban legend. 

As for the best way to eat the Yuletide treat, Schildhaus says an NCA survey found that 72 percent of people think that starting on the straight end is the proper way to eat a candy cane, while 28 percent start at the curved end.

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David E Gignac
David E Gignac
1 month ago

Who starts at the curved end? That is ridiculous.
Persecuted Christians in England and Germany in the 17th century? Wokeism has been around a long time.
In all cases I am going to go buy a box of red and white striped candy canes to hang on the tree, a tradition I haven’t performed in a while.
And finally, if the Christmas tree is a pagan hold over it is one that fits in perfectly with the celebration of Jesus’ coming and a symbol of rebirth.

1 month ago

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