A Somewhat Shocking History of Why We Eat Candy Canes at Christmas

Whelp... this is pretty strange.

Pretty much everyone can agree that candy canes are the unofficial candy of Christmas. (Or, well, that’s what we thought until this map proved us otherwise. But we digress.) Yet we never really knew how those minty, sugary sticks earned such a status. The answer, it turns out, is convoluted and shockingly full of lies.

As it turns out, the candy cane has very Christian origins. A candymaker from Indiana wanted to create a sweet that would honor Jesus: He shaped it as the good shepherd’s staff, used plain white sugar to symbolize his virgin birth, and added red stripes — three thin for Jesus’ scourging, and one thick for the blood He shed on the cross.

Kinda makes you look at your fave holiday candy in a whole new light, huh? Only thing: This entire explanation is a total, total lie.  

Candy sugar sticks with colored stripes have been a common confection for centuries, documented as far back as 1670 (long before Indiana was even a twinkle in James Madison’s eye). And even earlier than that — in Latvia in 1510 — trees were already being decorated with fruit and candy because they were gifts for loved ones.

Given the ubiquity of the striped sugar sticks and the growing trend of decorating Christmas trees, it has been safely assumed that the sticks were simply shaped into canes to make them easier to hang from a tree. So while candy canes are rooted in the Christmas holiday, they are not rooted in religious imagery.

But the story doesn’t end quite there. Despite this documentation, many churches from many countries have continued to lay claim to the candy cane. Consider the choirmaster in Cologne who allegedly “invented” them to keep children quiet during Christmas Mass, making them J-shaped in Jesus’ name. Or the candymaker in 18th century Christianity-oppressed “Europe” (so vague!) who prayed for a way to communicate the story of Christmas to young children — and was blessed with the idea for the candy cane.

As with many other things surrounding Christmas, these stories serve to imbue current holiday traditions with Christian symbolism. And while completely harmless (and perfectly fine to use for religious teaching purposes), the fact remains that they’re all falsehoods. Candy canes are nothing more than conveniently-shaped sugar sticks — and totally delicious, of course! 

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