The origin and history of the candy cane
By Julia Price
December 12th, 2013
With holiday meals to cook, gifts to buy and decorations and lights to assemble, it’s easy to overlook simple traditions like the candy cane. Packages of this peppermint- and wintergreen-flavored striped candy stick will fill the shelves of nearly every grocery during the Christmas season. But did you ever take a second to wonder how candy canes became a part of nearly every family’s Christmas celebration?
The origin of the candy cane is quite legendary itself, with several different stories of what it actually symbolizes. The first recorded information states that in the 1600s, a choirmaster in Germany was struggling to keep the children quiet during the long services. He worked with a local candy maker and came up with an all-white candy stick that was slightly bent at the top in order to resemble a shepherd’s staff. He not only was hoping to distract the kids but also wanted to help them associate the nativity scene and the birth of Jesus with their happy little sugar rush. The white color was meant to symbolize purity.
Other sources state that the curved top is actually an upside-down “J” for Jesus, and the red stripes that were added in the early 1900s supposedly represent the blood shed by Jesus when he was crucified on the cross.
Despite the difficulty of pinning down a singular historical truth for the red stripes and their existence, these candy sticks made their way from Europe to the United States in the late 1800s, when a German immigrant used the candy canes to splash some unique decor onto his otherwise plain Christmas tree.
While candy canes were staking their claim on Christmas, they still remained extremely difficult to mass produce. In 1950, a Catholic priest stepped outside of his normal churchly duties to help solve this problem by inventing a machine that could crank out a large number of candy canes at once. Last year, nearly 1.7 billion candy canes were produced during the Christmas season alone; that’s a large chunk of change that consumers spend as a whole on that one little stocking topper.
Knowing how profitable the candy cane business is, it makes sense that some of the larger companies would jump on board and come up with their own modern-day spin on the classic cane. Jelly Belly offers a selection of bright neon and bold colors and flavors, such as juicy pear, cinnamon, watermelon and blueberry, and Jolly Rancher has its own versions, with flavors based on summer smoothie selections.
But for many people, especially adults, candy canes still hold a place near and dear to the heart. They represent the carefree and hopeful attitude that all kids feel around this special time of the year. Candy canes are often the first thing children see when they rush to their stockings on Christmas morning, and they’re the last thing they taste as they brush away the sticky, gooey leftover pieces that have worked themselves into the corners of their smiles.