Before we get too far into Advent and Sunday School comes to a close until the New Year, I would like to point out that candy canes can be a useful teaching tool in telling the Nativity story.

The secular assault on Christmas might have lessened somewhat since President Trump was elected to office, however, there are probably a number of state schools in the US that forbid anything that even hints at the religious, e.g. candy canes and Christmas bell sugar cookies. A 2009 article from American Thinker, ‘Criminalizing Christmas Cookies, Candy Canes and Crèches’, has probably aged well. Please do read it.

So, it would seem that some children are left with learning about the Nativity story at home or in Sunday School. Enter the candy cane. Enterprising mothers and Sunday School teachers might like to make a meringue version for children.

One of my readers writes from the perspective of her golden retriever, Brodie. In 2016, she posted on the ever-popular candy cane:

and by the way here’s the history of the beloved ‘J’ shape like a shepherds crook…so the back story of the candy cane is spiritual and came in celebration of the nativity.

The link, on WhyChristmas?, explores the legend, history and symbolism behind this sweet December treat. There’s a lovely bit in the third paragraph for Sunday School teachers and Christian parents (emphases mine below):

A story says that a choirmaster, in 1670, was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service. So he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet! As he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made them into a ‘J’ shape like a shepherds crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus at the first Christmas. However, the earliest records of ‘candy canes’ comes from over 200 years later, so the story, although rather nice, probably isn’t true!

Sometime around 1900 the red stripes were added and they were flavored with peppermint or wintergreen.

Sometimes other Christian meanings are giving to the parts of the canes. The ‘J’ can also mean Jesus. The white of the cane can represent the purity of Jesus Christ and the red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross. The peppermint flavor can represent the hyssop plant that was used for purifying in the Bible.

So, although this symbolism is not a fact about the candy cane, it can be used to tell a child about the Nativity.

NoelNoelNoel elaborates on the religious symbolism sometimes associated with the candy cane:

Many people have given religious meaning to the shape and form of the candy cane. It is said that its shape is like the letter “J” in Jesus’ name. It is also in the shape of the shepherds’ crook, symbolic of how Jesus, like the “Good Shepherd” watches over his children like little lambs. It is a hard candy, solid like a “rock”, the foundation of the Church. The flavor of peppermint is similar to another member of the mint family, hyssop. In the Old Testament hyssop was used for purification and sacrifice, and this is said to symbolize the purity of Jesus and the sacrifice he made.

Some say the white of the candy cane represents the purity of Jesus and his virgin birth. The bold red stripe represents God’s love. The three fine stripes are said by some to represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Others say they represent the blood spilled at the beating Jesus received at the hands of the Roman soldiers.

Angie from Chocolate Candy Mall posted a story about the candy cane legend of the choirmaster and included a religious poem, perfect for children:

Look at the Candy Cane
What do you see?
Stripes that are red
Like the blood shed for me
White is for my Savior
Who’s sinless and pure!
“J” is for Jesus,
My Lord, that’s for sure!
Turn it around
And a staff you will see
Jesus my shepherd
Was born for Me!

Angie says:

In spite of the fact that the legend is more like folklore, the candy cane can be used in a beautiful way to represent the love and sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Short and sweet, isn’t it? Okay, back to the Legend of the Candy Cane story – Whether or not this tale is the true candy cane meaning, it presents us as believers with a simple opportunity to share a little bit of the Gospel story with those we meet during the Christmas season.

May the Lord bless you as you share your faith in Christ with others!

Let us now look at how the candy cane probably developed throughout history. They were likely to have been white sugary sticks in the 1800s, as NoelNoelNoel explains:

The use of candy canes on Christmas trees made its way to America by the 1800’s, however during this time they were still pure white.

In the United States during that time, Today I Found Out tells us that candy canes were part of Christmas tree decorations:

the first known candy cane that popped up in America was also supposedly thanks to a German immigrant, August Imgard, who used the candy cane for this purpose- decorating a Christmas tree in his home in Wooster, Ohio.

If he made crooks, he would have had to be very careful. Crooks became widespread only in the 20th century, for reasons stated below.

Therefore, I will work on the assumption that most of what appeared in this era were straight, white, sticks — possibly, although not always, flavoured with peppermint or wintergreen.

Old Christmas cards provide evidence of what shape and colour the peppermint sticks were. The familiar stripes did not appear until the 20th century:

Evidence, such as Christmas cards from the late 19th century, seems to indicate people were still going with the all-white candy cane at this point. Then in the early 20th century there started to be many instances of candy canes showing up on Christmas cards with red stripes.

Given candy canes were used as much for decoration as eating at this time, it’s not surprising that somebody got the bright idea to put a colorful stripe on them. It should also be noted that a little over a half century or so before stripes were known to be added to candy canes, there is a reference of white peppermint candy sticks with colored stripes added.

WhyChristmas? says that the candy cane we know today came about around 1920 when:

Bob McCormack, from Georgia, USA, started making canes for his friends and family. They became more and more popular and he started his own business called Bob’s Candies.

Today I Found Out has more about the stripes:

who first got that idea to make striped candy canes is still a mystery. Some say it was candy maker Bob McCormack in the 1920s. McCormick’s company by the late 1950s would become one of the world’s largest peppermint candy cane producers, selling about a half a million candy canes per day at their peak. But it may well be that McCormick simply popularized the striping practice, rather than invented it. One thing is for sure, this idea spread like a wildfire and soon a red stripe on a candy cane was near universal, as was peppermint flavoring …

As for the crook:

the cane had to be manually bent when it was still warm/soft coming off the assembly line, usually using a wooden mold or the like.

This proved to be problematic for Bob McCormack on the production line:

McCormack was having trouble at the time because about 22% of the candy canes produced by Bob and his crew were ending up in the trash as they broke during the bending process.

Fortunately, the good Lord blessed McCormack with a splendid brother-in-law. Not only was he a Catholic priest, he was also an inventor. WhyChristmas? says:

Bob McCormack’s brother-in-law, Gregory Harding Keller, who was a Catholic priest, invented the ‘Keller Machine’ that made turning straight candy sticks into curved candy canes automatically!

Today I Found Out adds:

Keller’s machine automated this process and shortly thereafter was perfected by Dick Driskell and Jimmy Spratling, both of which worked for Bob McCormack. This made it so the candy canes came out perfect nearly every time.

WhyChristmas? says:

In 2005, Bob’s Candies was bought by Farley and Sathers but they still make candy canes!

So, there you have the story behind candy canes, with a Christian twist.

If anyone has used the candy cane in a Sunday School lesson, please feel free to share your experience below!

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