The Candy Cane

Have you ever wondered how the candy cane came to be?

At Our Real Santa Experience we hope to share many stories of Christmas traditions, histories and North Pole stories for you to enjoy throughout the year.

The traditional Christmas candy cane is white with red stripes and flavoured with peppermint. Though several accounts make their claim to be the “true story” of the origin of the candy cane, history reveals that, most likely, it took several centuries and the contributions of several countries for the candy cane to evolve into its current form.

It appears that the candy cane has its origin in the plain white candy sticks invented in the early 1400s. The most credible story for how the sticks became canes is based on an incident that took place more than 200 years later in Germany. In 1670, the Cologne Cathedral hosted a living Nativity Scene for its Christmas celebration. 

The choirmaster had great difficulty keeping the children of the choir in order, so he got creative. Plain white candy sticks were popular with the children, and the choirmaster believed that if they were kept busy licking candy, they wouldn’t chatter so much. But the choirmaster wanted more than just keeping the children quiet, he wanted them to learn something of the significance of the Nativity. 

He appealed to a local candy maker to bend the sticks in the form of shepherd’s staffs.

Legend holds that the choirmaster used his ingenious design to encourage the children to watch how the shepherds of the Nativity used their canes to direct the live animals. More importantly, the choirmaster could instruct the children to consider how Jesus became the “Good Shepherd.”

The shape and purpose of a shepherd’s cane is significant. The design is meant to literally hook sheep by the neck in order to lead them to better nourishment (pastures, water, etc.) or to rescue them from harm. For nervous and fearful sheep, the sight of the shepherd’s staff is a great comfort. Surely that is why the

psalmist David could say to the Lord his shepherd, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

The choirmaster’s idea became so popular that the practice of passing out candy canes at living Nativity scenes spread throughout Europe. They could be used not only as a teaching tool, but to serve another practical purpose — their shape made them an ideal decoration to easily hang on a Christmas tree.

In regards to the red striping on candy canes, it is possible that the Swedish town of Granna (known as the peppermint candy capital of the world) influenced the addition. Peppermint candies with red stripes first appeared in the town in the mid-19th century. At this time, candy canes were still portrayed in plain white on Christmas cards throughout Europe and America. However, by the early 20th century, candy canes were depicted with their familiar red stripes.

Though some popular stories credit American confectioners with inventing the candy cane, historical evidence conflicts with these claims. It is possible, however, that an American was the first to infuse the candy cane with extensive Christian meaning.