Bluffton Packet

Why the candy cane represents so much more than a sweet Christmas season treat

Don and Charlene King made decorative sleighs from candy canes and Christmas wrapped chocolate bars as gifts for their friends.
Don and Charlene King made decorative sleighs from candy canes and Christmas wrapped chocolate bars as gifts for their friends. Submitted photo

Sometimes — no, most of the time — once a legend has taken hold on a particular subject, years later, even after you’ve acquired knowledge on the subject, the legend is still stuck in your memory and seems more colorful and meaningful.

Such has happened with the sweet and tasty candy cane, sold and eaten year round, but with much more dominance during the Christmas season. It even has its own holiday — Dec. 26 is National Candy Cane Day.

Legend has it that in 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks to his young singers to keep them quiet during the long crèche ceremony (a representation of Mary, Joseph, the wise men, shepherds, and others gathered around thbaby Jesus lying in a manger in a stable in Bethlehem). In honor of the occasion, he had the candles bent into a shepherds crook.

Nearly 200 years later in 1847, a German immigrant named Augustus “August” Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small blue spruce tree with paper ornaments and candy canes.

But it wasn’t until the turn of the century that the red and white stripes and peppermint flavor became the norm.

The story also circulates that a candy maker in Indiana incorporated the candy cane to represent the birth, ministry and death of Jesus. The stick starts out as pure white symbolizing the virgin birth and the sinless nature of Jesus. The hardness of the candy symbolizes the solid Rock, the foundation of the church and the firmness of the promises of God.

The candy maker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It also represents the staff of the “good Shepherd” with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out fallen lambs, who like all sheep, have gone astray.

Thinking the candy was somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. He used 3 small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripes were for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promises of eternal life. When you break the cane, it reminds us that Jesus’ body was broken for us.

A CBS news story on Dec. 21, 2014 said the candy cane is “ pulled, twisted, bent and sweet. Nothing says Christmas like a fresh crop of candy canes.”

The story was referring to Bob McCormack of Albany, Ga., who in 1919 began making candy canes for local children by manually bending the candy sticks while they were still soft. In 1957, his brother-in-law, Gregory Keller, a Catholic priest, stepped in with an invention that came to be known as the Keller Machine which automatically put the bend in the candy stick, increasing production from thousands to millions per day. It was such a hit it appeared on the TV show, “What’s My Line?”

The peppermint flavor, which stems from an herb called hyssop in the Old Testament symbolizing the purity of Jesus, was added to flavor the candy cane.

McCormack’s candy factory was originally known as Famous Candy Company but was later changed to “Bob’s” Candies, as it is still known today.

Concerning the truth of who actually invented the candy cane, the Smithsonian magazine says one thing, Southern Living Magazine says another, and the Spangler Candy Company says something else. In 1906, the company said candy canes came about in 1400 at the hands of a Catholic priest.

It all boils down to this: There no documented proof of its real beginning, just as there is also a mystery hanging over who the creator of the National Candy Cane Day was.

So go ahead and buy up a bunch of striped candy canes. Use them around the house as decoration, suck on one to ease a case of indigestion you came down with when trying to decipher the truth of the matter. Then relax and enjoy your Christmas season.

Merry Christmas.