Thursday, October 23, 2008

How did Candy Canes Get Started?

Anyone who's even been near a child knows the impossibility of keeping one of them still and quiet for any reasonable length of time. Like, say, for five minutes.

And it's even worse in church. Especially if it's a Loooonnnng Mass. This was the concern of the Choirmaster of Cologne back in 1670. His solution was probably the same as any harried child-care provider: Give 'em a candy.

Well, it just wouldn't do to pass 'em over a bag of Snickers. Even if they had been invented at the time, it would have felt a little sacrilegious. So, his solution was to create a religious candy. Kinda.
Hard candy was freely available - he simply changed the shape from a straight stick to a hooked one. It became a mini-shepherd's crook, instantly transforming a bad distraction into a heavenly one.

The Christmas tree was getting along in popularity around this time, and it didn't take long to see how easily these religiously shaped sweets hooked onto the branches. Soon, the candy cane left the pews and went commercial.

Although enormously popular, the original candy cane was simply white - it was a sugar stick with a humble attitude. It was not until the 1920's that the candy cane's more recognizable striping was added. This was done by Bob McCormick, who ran a small confectioners in Albany, GA. He started by hand-twisting the colors into the candy canes, and eventually found a way to mechanize the process. "Bob's Candies" is now most likely the brand of candy cane you buy during this holiday season.

There's an interesting, but wholly erroneous, net-myth concerning a confectioner in Indiana who put the whole candy cane idea together, fraught with deep significance in the red and white stripes for the blood of Christ and the color of purity. It can certainly mean that, if you care to think of the candy cane in that way, but the story has no basis in fact. Let's not take credit away from a priest in the 1600's that came up with the spoonful of sugar that made The Word go down easier for nearly 400 years of wriggling children.

Originally appeared in Truths Behind Traditions.


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