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 a spiritual meaning?
Did the creators of the candy cane just want to make money, and Christians found a way to Christianize the meaning of the candy, 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 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 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.
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?
First, let’s take a look at the J-shape of the candy. As mentioned before, many people have associated the crook-style with the shepherd’s staff. Shepherds who appeared at the nativity most likely had staffs in a similar shape.
Even if they carried straight upright sticks, most children, from children’s Bible media, will remember the shepherds having a crooked staff. And, of course, if we flip the candy over, it forms a “J,” reminding us of Jesus.
Now, let’s dive into 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.
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.
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 This 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.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/tab1962
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Crosswalk.com, literary agent at C.Y.L.E., and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in October of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.