Along with candles, wreaths, stars, bells and mistletoes, there is another ubiquitous decorative item for Christmas, one of the favorite for children: the candy cane.
In fact, it is so popular that it is one of the most visible items in any decoration, from Christmas tree, to restaurants or the shop windows. They can be hung with colorful ribbons and can be used to decorate almost anything, from an entire room to a cake or a tree.
The candy cane is simple, eye-catching, and what’s more, it’s tasty. Though candy canes come in many flavors, the most traditional flavor is peppermint and cinnamon. And like all other facets of Christmas, this J-shaped, red and white candy also has an interesting story behind it, and its origin and symbolism is steeped in myth.
It is widely believed that the candy, which earlier was straight as a stick, was given its distinctive J-shape by a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, around 1670. As story goes, during service one evening (or during the long Living Creche ceremony, depending the version of the story you heard), the children were being very loud, creating quite a ruckus and not paying any attention to the choirmaster. To keep them quiet and still for the nativity ceremony, he gave them a long, white, sugar candy stick. Since giving chocolates and candies at church was considered sacrilegious, he bent these sticks at one end to make them look like a shepherd’s cane and thus, attached a religious significance to them. In Christianity, Jesus is regarded as the Good Shepherd and so, the staff is considered to be a sacred symbol. Of course, in Christmas, Staff also represents the shepherds who came to visit the infant Jesus.
The candy cane became popular when, in 1847 August Imgard, a German-Swedish immigrant in Wooster, Ohio, who liked candy canes a lot, decided to string them on his Christmas tree as decorations. The idea soon caught up became quite a trend in no time. Moreover, by 1900, candy canes, which were earlier only white, came in red stripes, and with peppermint and cinnamon flavoring and, of course, now it’s a popular tradition everywhere.
The candy canes also became a much sought-after Christmas-decoration item as the hook in the candy made it easier to hang them on the Christmas trees.
Traditionally, the only symbolism that was associated with the candy was that of the shepherd’s staff. But there is also a modern allegorical interpretation of the candy cane. It is said that since it, when inverted, becomes J-shaped, it is a direct representation of Jesus Christ. The white color of the candy denotes the purity of Christ while the stripes represent his sacrifice and the whipping he received at the hands of the Romans, with the color red symbolizing his blood. It is believed that even the peppermint flavor of the candy is so because it is similar to hyssop which, according to the Old Testament, symbolizes purification and sacrifice. When you break the cane, it reminds us that Jesus’ body was broken for us.
Another story tells something similar: a candymaker wanted to make a candy that would help to remember what Christmas is really about. So he made a Christmas Candy Cane, incorporating several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy, white to symbolize the virgin birth and sinless nature of Jesus, hard candy to symbolize the solid rock, the foundation of the Church, and firmness of the promises of God. The candymaker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the name of Jesus, but It also represented the staff of the “Good Shepherd”. The candymaker then included three small stripes and a large red stripe to represent the suffering Christ endured at the end of his life.
And you which version do you prefer?
Images from Web – Google Research