For many kids, thoughts of Christmas conjure up images of red and white stripes and minty sweetness. We’re talking about candy canes, of course!

Believe it or not, candy canes didn’t always have stripes… and they weren’t always shaped like canes. Instead, they developed from simple white sugar sticks made as candy for children.

In the mid-1600s, confectioners (candy makers) made candy sticks by hand. The process took a lot of time and strength. The candy ingredients had to be mixed, heated and then pulled, cut and twisted.

Although popular with children, candy sticks were sometimes hard to find. They took a long time to make. Plus, they were also fragile and easily damaged by moisture.

The first candy sticks were made in 1670 by the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral in Germany. They were a gift to the children attending the Christmas Nativity pageant.

Because of the shepherds in the Nativity story, the choirmaster bent the candy sticks into canes to represent the shepherd’s crook. The cane-shaped candy sticks became a tradition at the church. Their popularity eventually spread to other areas throughout Europe.

Candy canes soon became associated with the Christmas holiday. Europeans used candy canes to decorate their Yule trees (trees decorated for the Yule holiday that would eventually become Christmas). Their hook shape made them easy to hang on the branches of a Yule tree.

The practice continued in America. As early as 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard hung candy canes from the branches of his Christmas tree. These candy canes were still solid white.

Candy canes would not earn their characteristic stripes until around 1900. No one knows who first gave candy canes those well-known, bright-red stripes twisting around the candy stick like the stripes of a barber’s pole.

All that’s known for sure is that Christmas cards from the years before 1900 featured only solid white candy canes. Christmas cards after 1900 show striped candy canes.

At about the same time, candy makers started using peppermint and wintergreen oils to give candy canes their signature minty flavor.

In the 1920s, Bobs Candies became the first company to mass-produce candy canes. They also developed a way to protect them from harmful moisture by wrapping them in cellophane.

Other manufacturers started to mass-produce candy canes in the 1950s after Gregory Keller invented a candy cane machine. Today, traditional red and white candy canes with a minty flavor are still very popular.

If you don’t care for minty candy canes, though, that’s OK. Candy manufacturers also make candy canes in a variety of other flavors and colors.

 

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