December 14, 2022
(Excerpts from Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas)
There are many legends surrounding the creation of the candy cane. Most of them more fable than fact, but the symbolism has become one of the best teaching tools during the holiday season. For a thousand years, hard candy has been used as a reward for good children. In the fourth century, when people started celebrating St. Nicholas Day, hard candy was probably one of the first things enjoyed. It was also a rare treat because the ingredients were so hard to come by. Meaning that the earliest legends about the candy cane was probably based on actual events.
The first legend states that in 1670, the choirmaster at Germany’s Cologne Cathedral was looking for a way to keep the children in the choir quiet during the service when they were not singing. He was trying to avoid the usual method of dealing with them, which was using a switch as punishment. He went to the local candy maker and chose the white sweet sticks, because the children liked them and it would take them awhile to consume them. This would keep them quiet when they were not singing. However, he was concerned that the children’s parents and the priests would disapprove of his giving the children candy to eat in the sanctuary.
So, the choirmaster asked the candy maker to bend the top of the sticks to make a crook. He could then used the candy as a teaching tool as well as an incentive to remain quiet. The white color was a reminder of the sinless life of Jesus and the crook shape was a reminder of the shepherds who came to visit the baby Jesus.
Another legend states that the candy cane was used in the time of Oliver Cromwell as a symbol for Christians to recognize other Christians when the use of Christmas decorations was outlawed. These candy canes had three tiny red stripes, for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They had a large red stripe as well to symbolize the redemptive power of Christ’s blood.
An Indiana candy maker, whose brother was a priest, knew these legends and started making candy canes that combined the two legends. So, while the meaning of the candy cane started off as legend, in the last century the legendary symbolism has become a reality in the US and around the world.