The history of candy canes through the centuries

From the plain white sugar sticks of 350 years ago to the minty striped canes enjoyed today

By K.A. Pendergast

It was about 350 years ago candy makers were making hard white sugar sticks to enjoy; these were loved by many and this type of confection soon became a popular favorite.

If you’re not used to many sweets, then it would probably be a treat. When the trees were starting to become part of celebrations, they were decorated often with food items, probably mostly cookies and treats, possibly including some of these sugar sticks.

In case you’re wondering just how they got to look the way they do now, well, the first real actual historical reference to the bent cane shape came from Germany where a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral either bent some sugar-sticks to look like a shepherd’s staff, or, got a candy maker to do it for him. So, they say.

Then these still white candy canes were given out as a treat to pacify the children during some of the actual nativity services that were very long running. Hmm … candy keeping kids quiet. Imagine!

Whether this story is true, we don’t really know, but this custom of handing out candy canes during the actual Christmas services would eventually make it all the way to North America. In the year 1847 the first actual reference to those on this continent appeared when a German immigrant with the name of August Imgard decorated his Ohio tree with candy canes.

It wasn’t until at least 1900 that anyone decorated them with stripes—we know this because of the many surviving earlier Cards that have none on them.

Around this time there became many more candy makers and they decided adding some flavours like peppermint and wintergreen would boost their sales and they were sure correct. These soon became the favorites. No single reference can be found as to who brought the nice red and green stripes into the picture, surprisingly since that is the most fun part I know.

Sometime near the middle of the century a candymaker named Bob McCormack, who had been making canes since 1919 with his company Bob’s Candies, became well known, some may say famous, for his candy canes.

Of course, at that time each and every single candy cane had to be bent by hand to make the proper shape. Ugh! You can only imagine how time-consuming that would be. Luckily Bob had a brother-in-law named Gregory Keller that invented a proper machine to do this work.

This increased production to show us all the type of canes we enjoy today.

There are many stories that prefer to think of them having some earlier symbol and religious meaning; however, there is no real evidence to prove any of this. So, we can just enjoy these yummy treats and thank that choirmaster for the shape and Bob and the other candymakers for coming up with the wonderful flavours and production that make it possible. Yum!

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