The Candy Cane's Surprise Meaning, History, and Symbolism (HINT: It's Spiritual!)

Through the example of the candy cane, we can see something that may or may not have Christian origins but can have a spiritual meaning. It can remind us of the truth of Scripture and the true reason for the season.

Updated Nov 21, 2023
The Candy Cane's Surprise Meaning, History, and Symbolism (HINT: It's Spiritual!)

Candy canes have become a staple in households, both Christian and non-Christian, for Christmas.

We may have seen children’s books describing the symbolism behind the candy cane and how it ties into Christmas or heard a children’s sermon or two on the shepherd’s crook nature of the candy.

Obviously, the shepherds in Luke 2 didn’t bring J-shaped candies to Jesus. So, does the candy itself have spiritual meaning and significance?

Did the creators of the candy cane just want to make money, and Christians found a way to Christianize the meaning of the candy cane, similar to what we do with secular media and in history with pagan holidays? Or did the candy always have a Christian history?

In this article, we’ll dive into the history of the candy cane to discover where the Christian symbolism for this candy entered the mix.

The History of the Candy Cane

Candy canes appeared in 1670. According to Candy History, “Legend has it that in 1670, the cane-shaped candy became historical when a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany bent the sugar sticks into canes to appear as shepherd’s hooks.”

However, most historians say that any legend that ties the candy cane history to Christianity most likely does not have enough proof to be substantial beyond a mere wives’ tale.

Another account puts them as late as the 1800s in terms of origin, showing that the candy originally started as a straight stick with no stripes, and the curve and red stripes came later.

It appears that the candy inherently does not have a spiritual meaning behind it. But similar to many Christmas (and other holiday) traditions, Christians can find a way to interweave biblical messages and meaning into commonplace objects.

After all, Jesus had done so in his parables. He found ways to draw parallels to heaven and other difficult-to-understand spiritual concepts by comparing them with every-day things such as fields or workers.

Meaning and Symbolism of the Candy Cane

Although a candy cane most likely doesn’t have an intentional Christian meaning, what, then, have Christians determined the candy to symbolize? While there is no single universally agreed-upon meaning, several interpretations and traditions surround candy canes:

First, the traditional shape of the candy cane represents the crook-style with the shepherd’s staff. Shepherds who appeared at the nativity most likely had staffs in a similar shape. The candy cane's shape resembling a shepherd's crook can also symbolize the guidance and care that God provides for His people, like a shepherd tending to his flock - as in the the Good Shepherd, a Scriptural title often associated with Jesus Christ in Christian theology.  

Another interpretation is that the "J" shape of the candy cane stands for "Jesus." This interpretation ties the candy cane directly to the Christmas holiday and the birth of Jesus.

The peppermint flavor of candy canes is refreshing and is often associated with the idea of freshening one's breath, which can be seen as a symbol of spiritual cleansing and renewal. Some people also believe that the hardness of the candy cane represents the solid foundation of the Christian faith.

Now, let’s dive into the meaning and symbolism of the three main colors on the candy.

1. White in the Bible typically symbolizes purity. This could either be the purity of Mary being a virgin, or the purity of Jesus, unblemished by sin, depending on which Christian you ask. The white color represents purity and the red stripes can symbolize Christ's blood shed for humanity's salvation

2. The red, as many of us can guess, symbolizes Jesus’ blood that he shed for us on the cross. Red uniformly tends to represent this in Christianity. Jesus’ blood plays a massive role in the religion.

3. Finally, we have the optional green that appears on some candy canes, and not others. Christians do seem to argue a bit about what the green means.

Some say it represents hyssop, a plant widely used in the Old Testament, especially for Passover (Exodus 12). With the hyssop, the Israelites spread blood on their doorposts and avoided the death of the firstborn. Hyssop also had cleansing properties, as we may have discovered in hymns we sang growing up.

Others say the green means new growth in Christ, as green typically is associated with growth, especially in evangelism tools such as the Wordless Book.

Perhaps the candy makers intended these symbols, perhaps not. No matter what the case is, we can look at candy canes and remember the birth and death of Jesus.

Why Does The Meaning Matter?

We should constantly analyze why we do and have certain holiday traditions. Why do we have Christmas trees and holly when both have pagan origins? And can we redeem those to have a Christian meaning, and is that even okay?

Christians have wrestled with these questions when it comes to holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas, all of which have gotten muddled with pagan holidays and traditions.

But through the example of the candy cane, we can see something that may or may not have Christian origins but can have a spiritual meaning. It can remind us of the truth of Scripture and the true reason for the season.

It's important to note that while these interpretations have religious significance, candy canes have also become a popular secular symbol of the holiday season and are enjoyed by people of various cultural and religious backgrounds simply for their sweet and festive nature. The symbolism and meaning attributed to candy canes can vary widely from person to person, and for many, they are a delightful treat associated with holiday celebrations.


Smithsonian Magazine

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/nicolesy

Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, book editor for hire, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids. Check out her editing profile at to find out about hiring her for your next book project.


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