Both a holiday treat and staple Christmas decoration, the candy cane is synonymous with falling snow, colorful lights, beaming kids and good, ol’ fashioned yuletide cheer. The candy cane is the No. 1 selling non-chocolate candy during the month of the December (and has been since it began being mass produced in the 1950s) with 90 percent of annual sales made between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It’s a mainstay typically found on every American Christmas Tree and while many believe it to be an American invention, the origin of the candy cane dates back to the late 1600s in Germany. The creation didn’t hit these shores until a German immigrant started the tradition of hanging a candy cane on a tree around the year 1847.
The legend of the candy cane begins in the Cologne Cathedral in Germany in the year 1670. The church choir master had a dilemma: his young choir boys were constantly fidgeting and making noises during church services and the common disciplinary tool of the time was a nice, firm switch. As they were in church, a sound thrashing was out of the question; instead, the choir master decided to give the boys small, sugary sticks of candy to quiet them. It was effective, but the dilemma continued. It seems the church board deemed the small, straight candy sticks inappropriate for church services. After ruminating on the problem for days, the choir master had an epiphany. He would arrange to have the sticks made to resemble a shepherd’s crook, therefore creating a religious reference. The board accepted his idea and the candy cane was born.
For the first 200 years of the candy’s existence, the canes were white and sugar-flavored. The red stripes and peppermint flavor that we know today were added at the beginning of the 20th century with the advent of automation. (Some attribute a religious meaning behind the genesis of the red stripes on the cane, but no evidence exists to support the belief; most attribute the red stripes to good marketing.) In the 1920s, Bob McCormack was the first to push the candy cane as a special Christmas treat and in 1957 began to mass produce them as such when his brother-in-law, Father Gregory Keller, invented a machine designed solely to make the product. The resulting company, Bob’s Candies, was the first to distribute candy canes worldwide.
Today, candy canes come in a variety of colors and flavors with peppermint being the most common (and best). Some unconventional flavors to try (if you are adventurous) are bacon, pickle, sriracha, Cinnabon, wasabi, rotisserie chicken, ketchup, gravy, coffee, Oreo, soda pop, Klondike Bar and more.
Whatever your favorite, I think it’s agreed that a Christmas tree isn’t complete without a candy cane hanging from its branches.
Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!