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How Candy Canes Became Synonymous With Christmas Time


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December is finally here, and the Christmas spirit is in full swing! Shopping mall Santas have been deployed, twinkling Christmas lights are being strung up on houses, wreaths are being hung up on doors, and Christmas trees are being decorated with lights, ornaments, and tinsel. But amidst this festive display, one element certainly stands out as the sweetest decoration of them all. Of course, we are talking about the minty sweet and versatile candy cane!

In the enchanting world of Christmas candy, few treats evoke the holiday spirit quite like the candy cane. These iconic sweets, with their distinctive red and white stripes, have become synonymous with Christmas time, adding a comforting touch of sweetness to the season's joyous celebrations.

But just how did these delightful confections find their way into the hearts and homes of virtually everyone around the Christmas holiday? Let's take a look at the fascinating history of candy canes, tracing their origins all the way back to a church in Germany, and exploring the delightful evolution that led them to become a holiday staple here in the United States and across the globe!

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The sweet beginnings of the original candy cane:

The origin of candy canes is a somewhat uncertain tale. While some historians believe they have most of the origin story figured out, much information relies upon old folktales, with little to no evidence to back up their claims. Yet, most of the legends in history books and some pockets of information floating around online suggest a German origin.

It is said that in 1670, the choirmaster at a cathedral in Cologne, Germany sought a solution to keep the children quiet during their lengthy Living Creche ceremony held on Christmas Eve. He began giving out sugar sticks to help appease the children as they patiently waited for their turn to sing. At this time, these sticks were plain white and straight, as the signature hook shape of the candy cane and their colorful stripes had not been conceived just yet.

The ingenious choirmaster, seeing the success of his candy sticks in appeasing the youth, later turned to a local confectioner to help strengthen the symbolism of the sweet treat. He suggested that candy sticks be bent into canes to resemble a shepherd's staff, tying together the holiday theme with a touch of biblical history.

Jesus is symbolically a shepherd – leading his flock of followers towards salvation in the eyes of God. Shepherds are also common symbols in the nativity scenes of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, so it is fitting that candy canes would evolve to take the shape of the shepherd’s staff. Some legends state that the cane shape came from the desire to make a “J” shaped candy, to symbolize Jesus’s name, but there is no real evidence to support either claim.

The candy cane’s evolution in early 1900’s American culture

The legends continue as the candy cane came to America in the mid 1800’s. In Wooster, Ohio, a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard decorated a blue spruce tree with paper Christmas ornaments, cookies, gilded nuts, and candy canes. The hook shape of the candy canes made them the perfect accent to adorn the tree.

As these started to become very popular as Christmas decorations, some color was added to make this holiday candy look even more festive. Matching the red and white pastiche given to Santa Claus around the 1870s, the candy cane’s red and white stripes have now become unmistakably synonymous with the Christmas season.

Around the early 1900’s, wintergreen, or peppermint oil was added to the plain sugar-flavored confections to add a fresh dash of pizazz. The minty-fresh flavor has been a staple of the holiday season, pairing well with chocolate candies and even warm festive drinks, like hot cocoa and café lattes.

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In the 1920’s, candy maker Bob McCormack and his company, Bob’s Candies began mass producing candy canes in droves. They were the first to package candy canes in cellophane. This protected the candy from moisture and made it easier to sell to consumers in smaller quantities.

By the 1950’s they had invented the Keller Machine, which automatically twisted and bent the small candy sticks. They were producing 1.8 million candy sticks per day and hitting annual sales of $3.3 million dollars. That’s a lot for a treat that’s typically consumed for only one month out of the entire year!

How are candy canes made?

Today, the production of candy canes has evolved into a delightful dance of sugar, color, and flavor. Confectioners carefully blend sugar, corn syrup, and peppermint oil to create the signature sweet and refreshing taste. The mixture is then stretched, twisted, and curved into the iconic cane shape. This labor-intensive process requires precision and skill, resulting in a treat that not only looks festive but carries the essence of Christmas in every bite!

While traditional peppermint candy canes remain a classic favorite, the candy cane universe has expanded to include an array of flavors. From fruity delights like Jelly Belly-inspired fruity flavored candy canes, to rich and indulgent chocolate peppermint stick candy, there's a flavor to satisfy virtually every palate. And clearly, nothing beats the excitement of purchasing multiple candy cane gift sets to decorate your Christmas tree every year!

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As Christmas Day approaches, candy canes take the center stage in the wide world of candy. Not only are they among the most quintessential holiday decorations of all time, but they also make for great stocking stuffers, adding the perfect amount of sweetness to everyone’s holiday festivities.

For those with certain dietary restrictions, most brands of peppermint candy canes are gluten free, which is good news for anyone wanting to savor a sweet treat during the most wonderful time of the year!

As we looked back on the history behind the candy cane, we have witnessed how many steps were taken as it became one of the most ubiquitous Christmas traditions. Whether adorning Christmas trees, serving as stocking stuffers, or simply enjoyed as a delightful treat all by themselves, these red and white pillars of the essence of Christmas continue to bring joy to the hearts and taste buds of people all across the world.

As we revel in the enchanting history of candy canes and the joy they bring during the holiday season, Redstone Foods continues to be your go-to destination for all things sweet. Since 1966, we've been dedicated to delivering a delightful experience to our customers. With an expansive catalog featuring over 6,000 specialty candy products, craft glass-bottle sodas, and gourmet snack foods, we take pride in offering something for everyone!

Create an account with us today! Find out why Redstone Foods is proud to be America’s favorite candy distributor!