Traditional candy canes are the perfect symbolism of Christmas and most people can’t even imagine having Christmas without a candy cane hot chocolate or decorating a Christmas tree with stripey candy canes. There are of course Christmas songs full of candy canes, decorations in the shopping malls and Santa Grottos, that just wouldn’t be the same without a giant candy cane decoration.
There are number of different stories linked to the candy cane history and how candy canes become such an important symbol of Christmas. Candy canes are usually white with red stripes and flavoured with a strong peppermint flavour. I’ve also seen white and green candy canes and also different flavours such as strawberry.
There are lots of different stories about the candy cane history and it seems that each country or a continent developed their own version of this traditional sweet.
Several different beginnings of candy canes history
The candy cane history origins in Germany
First, we need to travel back in time all the way to the 1670, when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany gave long sugar sweets to his singers to keep them busy (and quiet!) during a long Chrismas mass. To make the sweets more in the keeping of the festive time, he bent the sweets on the top to resemble shepherds’ crooks.
The choirmaster’s idea became so popular that the practice of giving out the candy canes to the children attending the Nativity scenes services and Christmas mass spread throughout 17 & 18 century Europe. Once Christmas trees also become popular the candy canes were used a decorations as their shape made it easy to hand on the tree branches.
A candy maker from Ohio
The next part of our story happened in mid 19 century (1847) when August Imgard (a German-Swedish immigrant) decorated his Christmas tree in Wooster town (Ohio) with paper ornaments and also some candy canes.
We don’t know what they exactly looked like or tasted like, but we know that it wasn’t until the beginning of 20 century that the traditional red and white coloured stripes become popular way of making the candy canes. The candy canes were originally made plain or any flavour, but they become more known as being peppermint flavoured at the beginning of 20 century.
The candy cane beginnings in USA – Indiana
As the story goes, a local sweets maker in Indiana, USA wanted to make a new kind of sweets for the festive season. In the end he made a sweet in a shape of J, which meant to stand for Jesus Christ. Unlike the candy cane we know now, this version was completely white with red stripes running down the candy cane. These were painted afterwards, not twisted together like how they are made nowadays.
The new candy in a shape of J had even more symbolicism. The white colour was inspired by the virgin birth of a baby Jesus. The candy was made as a hard boiled sweet, which symbolized the solid foundation that people have in the church and also the firmness of the promises that God gave to people.
The symbolism goes even further into suggesting that the red stripes running down the candy cane is the blood that Christ shed when he was crucified.
How the colour of candy canes developed over the centuries
Candy canes were originally made in pure white sugar and only later on coloured and flavoured.
When I was researching candy cane history I found that the candy cane shape and flavour might have been influenced by peppermint sweets which were very popular in a Swedish town called Granna. Their peppermint sweets had red stripes and first were made around the 1850s.
Until about 1950s most of the candy canes were made white and if you saw any Christmas cards from that time, the candy canes would be plain white. Fast forward 1/2 century and by early 20th century, most Christmas cards show red and white candy canes instead of plain white.
Nowadays, you can also see white and green stripes and different flavours, such as strawberries, sour fruit flavour or even slush puppies flavour.
The beginnings of mass production of candy canes
By the beginning of 20th century candy canes were fairly popular festive treat, but they were still made by local candy makers and traditional sweet shops.
This was until about 1920 when a traditional sweet maker called Bob McCormack, from Atlanta, USA, who was used to giving candy canes as a gift to his family and friends. He would make the candy canes in a traditional way by making two different types of sugar mixtures and then pulling them and twisting them together to produce the candy cane stripes. If you try this at home, by following my candy cane recipe, you’ll realise how hard and time consuming it can be to produce a single batch of these pretty sweets.
Fortunately for Bob McCormack, his brother in law – Gregory Keller invented a sweet making machine that made the making of candy canes much more automated and easier than ever before!
This amazing innovation, meant that in the 1950s Bob McCormack company, Bob’s Candies become the first company to mass-produce and supply candy canes sweets across all the continents.