CANDY CANES and their meaning

I found myself in church last Sunday, being supportive of a young family member who was performing some music.

While there, I heard this story. I suppose many of you have heard or read the same story, or some variation of it during the month of December. Well here is what was said:

The Christian Origin of the Candy Cane

A candymaker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols from the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the Church, and firmness of the promises of God.

The candymaker made the candy in the form of a "J" to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the "Good Shepherd" with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray.

The candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.

Every time you see a Candy Cane, remember the Wonder of Jesus and His Great Love that came down at Christmas, and that His Love remains the ultimate and dominant force in the universe today.

Well the story is just not true. Candy canes were not created by "a candymaker in Indiana" who "stained them with red stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received." Candy canes were around long before there was an Indiana, and they initially bore neither red coloration nor striping -- the red stripes were a feature that did not appear until a few hundred years later, at the beginning of the 20th century:

About 1847, August Imgard of Ohio managed to decorate his Christmas tree with candy canes to entertain his nephews and nieces. Many who saw his canes went home to boil sugar and experiment with canes of their own. It took nearly another half century before someone added stripes to the canes . . . Christmas cards produced before 1900 show plain white canes, while striped ones appear on many cards printed early in the 20th century.

In fact, the strongest connection one can make between the origins of the candy cane and intentional Christian symbolism is to note that legend says someone took an existing form of candy which was already being used as a Christmas decoration (i.e., straight white sticks of sugar candy) and produced bent versions which represented a shepherd's crook and were handed out to children at church to ensure their good behavior:

Soon after Europeans adopted the use of Christmas trees, they began making special decorations for them. Food items predominated, with cookies and candy heavily represented. That is when straight, white sticks of sugar candy came into use at Christmas, probably during the seventeenth century.

Tradition has it that some of these candies were put to use in Cologne Cathedral about 1670 while restless youngsters were attending ceremonies around the living creche. To keep them quiet, the choirmaster persuaded craftsmen to make sticks of candy bent at the end to represent shepherds' crooks, then he passed them out to boys and girls who came to the cathedral.

Claims made about the candy's religious symbolism have become increasingly widespread as religious leaders have assured their congregations that these mythologies are factual, the press have published these claims as authoritative answers to readers' inquiries about the confection's meaning, and several lavishly illustrated books purport to tell the "true story" of the candy cane's origins. This is charming folklore at best, and though there's nothing wrong with finding (and celebrating) symbolism where there wasn't any before, the story of the candy cane's origins is -- like Santa Claus -- a myth, not a "true story."

Fictional accounts of the candy cane's religious origins are the subject of a number of colorful Christmas volumes, including The Candymaker's Gift: A Legend of the Candy Cane by Helen Haidle (1996), The Candy Cane Story by Joy Merchant Nall and Thomas Nall, Jr. (1996), The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg (1997), and the children's book The "J" Is For Jesus by Alice Joyce Davidson (1998).

What is interesting about this little story, is that I have never met a single Christian who ever doubted that this story was true. Yet I have never met one who bothered to research it before repeating it themselves.

The next time someone tells you this story, say this: "That candymaker in Indiana. What was his name?" No one knows because the story is not true.

Would it be fair to say that as Christians, we believed all things, and thought that it was good to do so?

Merry Xmas!

Sources for your own research:

Garrison, Webb. Treasury of Christmas Stories.
Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1990. ISBN 1-55-853087-8.

Gotshall, Rich. "Humble Candy Cane Symbol of Faith'"
The Indianapolis Star. 17 December 1994 (p. B4).

Green, Larre. "Candy Cane Steeped in Holy Symbolism."
The Dallas Morning News. 22 December 1996 (p. C2).

Samuels, Alisa. "Tracing Roots of Tradition."
The Baltimore Sun. 2 December 1994 (p. B3).

Symansic, Tricia. "Candy Canes Are Also a Treat for the Soul."
The Columbus Dispatch. 21 December 1996 (p. E10).

Wagner, Arlo. "School Blocks Christmas Notes, Leaves Sour Taste."
The Washington Times. 24 December 1996 (p. C7).

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