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The candy cane’s Christian origins — fact or fiction

  • December 23, 2014

The candy cane has been a Christmas treat and tradition for so long that no one is completely sure of its origin. In lieu of a history as solid as the hard candy itself, myths and legends have popped up in its place, including a tale that ties every aspect of its existence to Christianity.

As the story goes, an Indiana candy maker made the sweet stick as a witness to Christ, translating symbols from His birth, ministry and death into its design. If the tale is to be believed, the traditional white cane symbolizes the virgin birth and Jesus’ sinless nature. The candy’s hardness represents the firmness of God’s promises and the solid foundation of the Church. And the candy cane isn’t a cane at all, but a “J” for Jesus and a representation of the staff of the Good Shepherd. The candy cane maker then splashed the cane with its now iconic red stripes as a reminder of the blood Jesus shed for the salvation of the world.

This has been retold in various versions — all of them untrue, according to the Smithsonian Institute. debunks the idea that candy canes come from Indiana because theprecursor to the cane — the hard candy stick — originated in the 17th century, before Indiana as we know it today existed. But the myths persist, including the idea that these “J” for Jesus candies were given out to children as a form of Christian identification during times of persecution. Exactly which times of persecution the tales tell not.

More than one account of the candy cane’s history shapes it to fit in with Christianity. Legend claims that in 1670 a German choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral created the sweet treat to quiet the choir children. The choirmaster then asked a candy maker to add the iconic crook, turning the sweet sticks into shepherd staffs, to remind the children of the shepherds from the night of Jesus’ birth, thereby making the candy more church appropriate.

Myth busters generally believed that the cane hit the market in the late 19th century. According to, it was in the early 20th century that Americans added the classic peppermint flavour and red swirl to the cane.

Today, candy canes made of sugar and corn syrup are cooked at a temperature of about 142 degrees Celsius for four minutes and are manufactured all year.

Whether new myths pop up to explain the existence of this holiday treat, the candy cane continues to serve as both confection and deco- ration each Christmas season.

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