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Candy Canes

The True and False Traditions of Candy Canes

What would Christmas be like without candy canes? Delicious candy canes can be found everywhere at Christmastime as sugary treats and ornaments. We love their sweet flavor and interesting design. We are intrigued by the various legends surrounding the candy cane's origin and meaning. Here are the traditional candy cane legends, and also the more probable history.

Traditional Candy Cane Symbolism

The Candy Cane and the letter J

According to some candy cane tradition, the meaning of the "J"-shaped treat can be traced back to the birth of Christ. The shepherd's staff, it is said, was the inspiration for the candy cane. Of course, the image of the shepherd fills the pages of the New Testament: Christ is called the Good Shepherd; angels appeared to shepherds at His birth, etc. In addition, there is another symbolism in the candy cane design: if you turn the candy cane upside down, it becomes the letter "J" for Jesus. And there is more. Tradition suggests that the candy cane's stripes symbolize the stripes, or whipping, that Christ received before He was crucified. It is said that the candy cane is made with red stripes as a representation of the blood of Jesus, who washed away our sins. The white stripes (sometimes symbolizing the Virgin Birth) represent Christ's ability to make us pure as snow. The hardness of the candy cane is said to represent the solid rock or the firm foundation of Christ and His promises. Although there are many varieties of candy canes today, they are not true candy canes, according to Christmas tradition, unless they are red and white and thus represent Jesus.

More Candy Cane Legends

Another candy cane legend states that the candy cane was created in the 1600s as a sweet reward for children who behaved well in church or who learned their prayers. These original candy canes, the account continues, were straight white sticks of sugar candy used for decorating Christmas trees. Then, in the latter part of that century, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral urged candy makers to bend the candy sticks so that they would look like a shepherd's staff. The choirmaster distributed the candy canes to children who could remain quiet during the long Living Nativity ceremony. Thus, the custom of giving candy canes grew popular and spread quickly throughout Europe.

There is also the story of candy canes being invented in the early 1900s by a candy maker in Indiana. It is said that he wanted to invent something that represented Christ. He is credited, according to this account, with the candy cane's "J" shape, hardness and stripes, as discussed previously.

Other Candy Cane Tidbits

When it comes to Christmas, we invent all sorts of things to build on the magic of the season. Most legends are harmless; some help to remind us of the real origin of Christmas-the birth and life of Jesus Christ. The legend of the candy cane may be one of those harmless myths that we enjoy embracing. For the purists, here are some things to keep in mind. Candy canes were probably not created by the candy maker in Indiana who supposedly gave them red stripes to represent the scourging of Jesus. Candy canes had already been around a long time.

One historical source says the following about candy canes: "About 1847, August Imgard of Ohio managed to decorate his Christmas tree with candy canes to entertain his nephews and nieces. Many who saw his candy canes went home to boil sugar and experiment with candy canes of their own. It took nearly another half century before someone added stripes to the candy canes . . . Christmas cards produced before 1900 show plain white candy canes, while striped ones appear on many cards printed early in the 20th century."

Over the years, many claims have been made about the candy cane's religious symbolism, some of which have sounded so good that they have been taken for fact. But, the story of the candy cane's origin may be as much a myth as the legends we have ascribed to Santa Claus.

So What's the Truth? Candy Cane Probabilities

Both sides seem to agree that the candy cane has intentional Christian symbolism. Someone, (probably not the Indiana candy maker), at sometime, (probably no earlier than the late 1600s), took a straight white stick of sugar candy, which was widely being used as a Christmas decoration and bent it to symbolize a shepherd's crook. The tradition about candy canes being handed out to restless youngsters by the ingenious choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral is also an account that both sides seem to agree upon.

Who could have guessed that the simple candy cane could cause such uproar? Believe what you want - it won't change the delicious taste of the highly symbolic candy cane this Christmas.

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