You may have heard the popular story of the origin of the candy cane. It’s a great story about a candy maker from Indiana who set out to create a piece of candy that would tell the true meaning of Christmas.
As the story goes, this man called his creation the Christmas Candy Cane, but unfortunately the name was later reduced and the word Christmas was left out.
The story includes all of the ideas that went into the finished product. The cane is shaped like a shepherd’s staff, which symbolizes the shepherds who visited the baby Jesus on the first Christmas; it also symbolizes that Jesus became our Good Shepherd. And if you turn the cane upside down, the staff becomes the letter J, which stands for Jesus.
The candy is very hard, reminding us that Jesus is the rock of our salvation. The candy was originally pure white, just as the Christ Child lived a pure life. But the candy maker was not satisfied with a simple white cane, so he added the color red. Red was chosen because it is the color of the blood that Jesus shed for us, and this red descended as three stripes as a picture of the stripes that Jesus received at His scourging.
These features of the candy cane paint a beautiful story, and they can certainly remind us of our Lord. Unfortunately, the story of the candy maker isn’t true.
For starters, the candy cane was invented in the 17th Century, long before there ever was an Indiana. Ancient Christmas cards have pictures of the candy cane drawn on them, so we know that they have been around for a very long time.
This candy has evolved over time. It originated as a stick, not a cane. And it was pure white for a time, with the red stripes being added later. Some say that it became associated with Christmas as a tree decoration, similar to popcorn. Others say that it was used to entice children to be quiet during Christmas Eve services.
While we don’t know all the details for sure, we do know that the popular emails and even the children’s book on the topic are false.*
I am not writing this to be the Scrooge of candy canes. I just found this out recently when I was researching the story to use with our AWANA kids at church. I figure that there are many people who, like me, have unintentionally misled people with this great story.
I worry that children might one day find out that this story isn’t true, and then they may throw the baby out with the bath water. One professor will tell them that Creation isn’t true, while another tells them their absolute values should be more subjective. They will begin to think that we have been lying to them their whole lives.
That might be a little overzealous on my part, but I never want to be guilty of leading these students astray.
With all that said, we don’t have to abandon the candy cane in our children’s churches. We can still use all of the analogies because they are still fitting. In fact, this year I am giving out candy canes to all of our students, and with the cane I am attaching a poem that highlights these illustrations.
The candy cane is still a great object lesson because it is delicious, fun, Christmassy, and most of all, accurate in its symbolism.
Here is a link to a website with a printable poem that does not mention Indiana or any dates, just the rich object lessons from the candy cane. This is what we are using this Christmas, and hopefully it can help you too.