Along with sour patch-inspired candy and hot cacao spoons, the ever-evolving traditional red and white peppermint cane has nudged itself into a soft spot in the hearts of many, ever since childhood. Ranking as one of the most beloved Christmas treats, candy canes have become an indispensable part of the holiday season.
Did you know that prior to automated candy production, artisanal candy makers would twist each peppermint candy by hand into our beloved sweets? However, once automated candy machinery was introduced in the 1950s, the classic minty flavor would forever be signified by those ruby red and snowy white stripes. While the evolution of its popularity is easy to construe, the factual history behind our delicious Christmas cheer is mired in folklore.
You may find a German who’ll argue that the history originated from a native choirmaster in the 1600s at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. He made the sugar candies in the shape of a “J” to represent a shepherd’s staff, as he would use the candy to unwind his rowdy choir boys. While it’s no joke that churchgoers appreciate a good candy cane, there is little evidence to support the claim.
Then, you have the well-traveled legend of the candy cane that established hope and unity in a time of unrest. It all began in the 18th century when there were certain regions of Europe that placed a restricting ban on any public display of Christianity. No Bibles, no crosses, and no Christmas spirit. A skilled candy maker with a heart longing to share the love of Jesus during this time of oppression embarked on a journey to spread a little Christmas joy. His prayer for inspiration sparked the idea of a candy cane, and here is how it happened:
- Very much like the tale of the German choirmaster, this candy maker created the sugary sweet to resemble a shepherd’s staff. But, this representation of Jesus as the shepherd (Psalm 23:1, John 10:27-30, Isaiah 40:11) was just the beginning of the story that unfolded. In fact, people soon discovered that when holding a candy cane upside down, the edible sweet will also form a “J” for Jesus (Matthew 1:21).
- The nostalgic stripes laboriously twisted together were used to tell the story of Jesus’ sacrificial love at the crucifixion. The ruby-red signifies the blood shed for our sins to offer us salvation, an abundant life, and true joy (Revelation 1:5, Luke 22:20, John 3:16). The snowy white signifies Jesus’ sinless nature, his holiness, and purity (1 John 1:7).
- Did you know that even the scent of peppermint was uniquely chosen for a special purpose? The sweet fragrance of peppermint is quite similar to hyssop, an aromatic minty herb often used for purification throughout the Old Testament. Similarly, it was chosen as a beautiful reminder of the warm spices brought to baby Jesus by the Wise Men (Matthew 2:11, John 10:29, Psalm 51:7).
- The candy texture was to remind small children that Jesus was their “rock” (Psalm 31:3). The hard candy signified dependability, strength, and peace.
- As with the memorable tootsie roll pop commercial, there are few who can claim how many licks it truly takes to eat an entire candy cane. With that said, the first bite a child takes into the peppermint stick was craftily designed to break unpredictably. The broken candy cane was used to finish telling the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, as his body was broken on the cross for our salvation (1 Corinthians 11:24).
With these beautiful designs noted in our minds, the final concept of its creation was of the most importance. The candy cane was not created just to be eaten, or simply to be admired. It was meant to be shared. The candy maker intended for this delicious sweet to be a gift to all who came across his path to represent the love of Jesus when he gifted us the treasure of salvation. The classic candy cane was meant to give children joy in the present day and to share the hope of tomorrow.
While the legend of the candy cane is not bound in the historical words of a textbook or documented in a government library, it will always be cherished in our hearts.