They are the quintessential Christmas confection, a traditional treat beloved the world over. One glimpse of their prominent red and white stripes is all it takes to recognize them as candy canes, a treat that has been putting kids in the holiday spirit for well over three hundred years.
We owe thanks to the Germans for this December delicacy. Flavored candy sticks were around for many years before the advent of candy canes, but the commonly accepted story is that, in 1647, a choirmaster in the Cologne Cathedral thought that the long-lasting candy sticks would be a fine way to keep his students quiet during the sometimes lengthy nativity festivities. Perhaps to tie them into the holiday, he asked them to be bent into the shape of a shepherd’s staff, a biblical connection. Over the years, the custom spread throughout Europe and eventually across the pond.
Over in America, circa 1847, a German candy maker named August Imgard whipped up a batch for which to decorate his Christmas tree, the first recorded mention of candy canes in the United States. History fails to record when peppermint became the commonly associated flavor, but we do know that, up until 1900, all candy canes were solid white in appearance. So the image most people have in their heads is actually a modern interpretation of the candy cane. Not long after the addition of the red stripes, the first patents for cane-making machines began appearing in the 1920s, allowing everyone the inexpensive luxury of a candy cane.
Today, there are countless varieties of the traditional treats. They come in all sizes, from ones you can fit in the palm of your hand, to ones that would make a formidable weapon. They are also available in a rainbow of colors and flavors such as Jellly Belly or Smarties, and even savory flavors such as (not for the squeamish) bacon and pickle varieties (yes, pickle). Most people prefer the old-fashioned peppermint version though, and one company alone, the Spangler Candy Company sells 2.7 million candy canes each year. It’s safe to say that this is one tradition that is unlikely to fizzle out any time in the near future.
If you have fond memories of candy canes, or have a recollection of a personal favorite you’d like to share, we welcome all your thoughts in our comments section.