Most would agree that Halloween is the first holiday that comes to mind when we think of candy being sensationalized. Perhaps Easter is close behind, but Christmas rarely gets associated with candy. Sure, we realize that the children in Christmas storybooks dream of “sugar plums” while gingerbread houses are under construction. Candy still lacks that stapled association with Christmas that Halloween and Easter have, despite one very small, yet significant exception: candy canes. What would the holidays be without those simple yet extremely recognizable red and white treats?
Although the true history of the candy cane has been widely disputed, there is something special about this particular Christmas candy that makes people feel nostalgic. Perhaps it’s the vibrant bright red and pure white dangling from a crispy, dark evergreen tree that stands out? Or maybe it’s that feeling of contention and solidarity experienced as a young child in school, passing out Christmas candy for each fellow classmate. No matter what feeling may come your way at the thought of candy canes, the mystery as to where they potentially originated still lingers.
It’s been proposed that candy canes originated in Germany in the late 1600s. They first came on the scene after a local choirmaster in Cologne asked the local candy maker to develop something long-lasting for the noisy children in order to maintain silence during Christmas mass that evening. Allegedly, this Christmas candy incorporated white in order to remind the children of Jesus’ purity and sinless life while on Earth. He also requested the candy maker create hooked tops for the candies to remind the children of the shepherds who visited the baby Jesus on the night he was born.
It’s also said that a recipe for straight peppermint candy sticks, white with colored stripes, was published in 1844. The candy cane which has been mentioned in literature since 1866, was first mentioned in association with Christmas in 1874, and as early as 1882 was hung on Christmas trees. They were first produced manually, with a factory employee physically bending the sticks to create the “J” shape, with over twenty percent breaking before packaging. It wasn’t until Fr. Gregory Keller invented the Keller Machine that automatically bent and striped the candies.
Although the folklore of the German candy maker has been debunked on several occasions, there is something sweet, simple, and perfectly lovely about this little tale. Whether or not it holds any authenticity, a little holiday history of a universally enjoyed Christmas candy never hurt anyone.