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Origin of Candy Cane: Unwrapping the Sweet History of a Holiday Classic

The candy cane, with its iconic red and white stripes, has a sweet history that dates back over 350 years. Originally pure white and straight, it evolved into a J-shape and gained its festive colors to delight children and adults alike. Discover how this simple sugar stick became a symbol of holiday cheer. What twist will its story take next?
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Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Editorial Team
What is the History of the Candy Cane?

The origin of the candy cane is shrouded in festive lore, yet its evolution is a sweet testament to holiday traditions. According to the National Confectioners Association, the candy cane began as a simple white sugar stick in the 17th century, initially serving as a Christmas tree ornament. It wasn't until the early 1900s that the recognizable red stripes and iconic hook were added, transforming it into the Christmas staple we know today. As reported by Smithsonian Magazine, the addition of peppermint flavoring further solidified the candy cane's status as a seasonal favorite. This confection's journey from plain sugar stick to striped treat encapsulates the spirit of innovation within the history of holiday sweets.

Legend says the red stripes on the candy cane represent Christ's scourging before crucifixion.
Legend says the red stripes on the candy cane represent Christ's scourging before crucifixion.

A popular legend holds that a candy maker created the candy cane to resemble a "J" for Jesus, or a shepherd's crook when held the other way. The white candy is said to symbolize Jesus' purity, or the virgin birth. The three small red stripes are a reminder of the scourging that Christ received before His crucifixion, and the large single stripe is a symbol of the blood He shed. The peppermint flavor is similar to that of an herb called hyssop, featured in purification rites described in the Old Testament.

Legend suggests that the candy cane was made to resemble a shepherd's crook.
Legend suggests that the candy cane was made to resemble a shepherd's crook.

While the candy cane holds these connotations for many Christians, they were not the original inspiration for the holiday treat. It was initially a simple decoration for Christmas trees. In 1670, the choirmaster of Cologne Cathedral had the idea of bending the candy into the shape of shepherd's crooks in order to add a religious connotation and handed the treats out to children during Mass. For nearly 200 years, the candy cane was white and flavored only with sugar.

Red-striped peppermint candies, which date back to the mid 1800s, were inspiration for the candy cane.
Red-striped peppermint candies, which date back to the mid 1800s, were inspiration for the candy cane.

The candy cane remained pure white until the 1920s, when confectioner Bob McCormick of Albany, Georgia added the well-known red stripes. Red-striped peppermint candy first appeared in the mid-19th century in the Swedish town of Granna, and McCormick may have been inspired by these treats. The red and white candy canes were hand-twisted at first, and the process was mechanized in the 1950s.

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Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.

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Discussion Comments

anon357345

I am doing a report on this and I love this site. Like, who knew that candy canes were made of sugar!

Leonidas226

It makes sense that the J shape would be adopted for convenient hanging of the candy canes on a Christmas tree. I really can't see how a straight "Candy Cane" would ever make a good Christmas decoration. After all, I don't think it was ever called "Candy stick."

ShadowGenius

There are candy canes made specifically for dogs which we love to get for our dog Daisy every Christmas. It's so cute to see her enjoying the holiday season along with the rest of us.

Tufenkian925

There is a lot of syncretism between Christianity and older pagan religions in the Christmas traditions of the West. Candy canes are likely no exception to the general rule of thumb that many articles and symbols of the Christmas season were originally pagan in nature. The Christmas tree, for example, although normally decorated with a top angel or star, comes originally from Germanic animism. Santa Claus/ Father Christmas, also, is likely to have come from an earlier winter deity.

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    • Legend says the red stripes on the candy cane represent Christ's scourging before crucifixion.
      By: wajan
      Legend says the red stripes on the candy cane represent Christ's scourging before crucifixion.
    • Legend suggests that the candy cane was made to resemble a shepherd's crook.
      By: chiarafornasari
      Legend suggests that the candy cane was made to resemble a shepherd's crook.
    • Red-striped peppermint candies, which date back to the mid 1800s, were inspiration for the candy cane.
      By: VIPDesign
      Red-striped peppermint candies, which date back to the mid 1800s, were inspiration for the candy cane.