A candy cane hanging on a Christmas treeCredit: Matt Reinbold

Have you ever wondered why people always hand candy canes or some sort of peppermint candy out at Christmas time?  The cane shaped hard candy with the red and white stripes married with the peppermint flavor, although an enjoyable treat that delightfully freshens your breath, just seems an odd thing to hand out.  Perhaps that is, until now.  Although the history and mystery behind candy canes contains a lot of folk lore, the candy cane story is truly an interesting one to share with your family and friends.  

The Folk Lore

As the folk lore and mystery behind the candy cane story begins, the candy cane was first developed in the year 1670 by a church choirmaster and a local candy maker in Cologne Germany.  In wanting to preserve the peaceful and sacred Christmas Eve church service, the choirmaster sought a remedy to keep the little children quiet that were in attendance.  As the story continues, the choirmaster asked the candy maker to create a sweet stick in the shape of a cane with red and white stripes and taste like peppermint.

Well that is a very curious thing for a choirmaster to do.  So the question that begs to be answered is, why would he do that?  What you have to understand is that unlike modern times where the handing out of treats to children is a very common thing to do even in a church, it was not so in the 1600’s.  In fact, it would have been an extremely shocking thing to do especially in a very traditional church service.  So with that being said, the choirmaster needed a solid reason to justify the handing out of candy to children during a church service.  Apparently the choirmaster thought it would be in poor taste to tell parents that the candy was to keep their loud and unruly kids quiet during a peaceful service so that others could enjoy it more.

So the choirmaster concluded that the only way to justify the candy treats in the Christmas service was to incorporate the candy into the story of Christmas itself.  This is not to say that the choir master was going to tell the children that Mary, Joseph and Jesus enjoyed candy canes, but instead he sought to bring teaching elements of the Christmas story into the candy treat itself.  With that being said, the choirmaster asked the candy maker to make the treats in the shape of a cane.  Why you may ask?  

The Cane Shape

Bobs CanesCredit: Bitter Sweet Horror

The cane shape is to represent Jesus as well as the shepherds that visited him on the night of his birth.  In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep.  The shepherd that leaves his flock of 99 in order to find and rescue his lost one.  Shepherds use the hook of their staffs when they are guiding and pull their sheep into place.  Jesus’s parable speaks of us being like sheep, easily led astray.  However Jesus is the shepherd that goes out of his way to pull his beloved sheep back into the fold.  

The Red and White Stripes


OK, but what about the red and white stripes?  The white stripe of the candy cane is to represent how Jesus was sinless and pure.  The red stripe is to represent the blood that Jesus shed upon the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  When Jesus was beaten and whipped in the square of Jerusalem, his back was a blur of red and white stripes.  Therefore, the red and white stripes of the candy cane is to teach the children that Jesus was sinless and pure and that his blood was shed for our salvation. 

The Peppermint Flavor

So now that brings us to the delicious peppermint taste.  What lesson can be taught about Jesus from the peppermint flavor?  In the biblical era, people had to rely on plants and minerals for cleaning, cooking, medicine and more.  A very popular plant used in those days was the hyssop.  Hyssop is an herb in the mint family that was often used for all the tasks mentioned above.  However, hyssop has a deeper relationship with Christianity.  In the book of Leviticus, God commanded his people to use hyssop in the ceremonial cleansing of people and houses making them once again pure.  In the book of Exodus, God instructed the people to use a bunch of hyssop and paint the lamb’s blood over their doorways to mark them as clean.  In the book of Psalm, David asks God to wash him with hyssop so that he would be spiritually clean.  As you can see, hyssop and its peppermint taste was easily used as a teaching tool about how the blood shed by Jesus purifies us from our sins.  

What the history books tell us

According to Snopes.com, a leading website that researches urban legends and internet rumors, there is no conclusive evidence to truly support the story above.  So what do we know historically about candy canes?  History tell us that the Bunte Brothers, Chicago IL candy makers, filed one of the earliest patents for a candy cane producing machine in the 1920s. 


History also tells us that in the year 1919 in Albany Georgia, Bob McCormack began producing candy canes.  Yes, this is in fact thee McCormack name that you see in your grocery store.  Originally his company was called the Famous Candy Company, then Bobs Candies and later on Mills-McCormack Candy Company.  In 1957, Bob McCormacks brother-in-law Gregory Keller, patented the Keller Machine which automated the process of turning the candies into their cane shape.  Originally, candy canes had to be manually bent into their cane shapes and there was quite a bit of product loss due to breakage.   

What can we take home about the candy cane story?

So what can we take home about the relationship of the candy cane to Christmas?  If you look at the history side of it, you can see that candy canes have been in existence for years.  However the history books do not tell you about how the candy cane originally got its shape, look and taste. 

If you look at the folk lore side of it, you can see a great story about a choirmaster that can be told to your families and friends at your next holiday party.  However there is no historical proof that the choirmaster and the candy maker did invent the candy cane.

As for my family and I, we look at the spiritual side of it.  We see an opportunity to share the message of Jesus and his ministry to us on Earth.  The candy cane is an instrumental tool to teach about God’s love and forgiveness, the true message of Christmas.