The development of the candy cane took a few hundred years. Before the invention of the modern pacifier, parents used to give their babies unflavored white sugar sticks to suck on. During the 1670's a German choirmaster had the sugar sticks bent into a shepherd's staff and passed out to children attending the Christmas services. This holiday custom spread throughout Europe and fancy canes, decorated with roses, were used as Christmas decorations in many homes. About 1900 the white candy cane received its traditional red stripes and peppermint flavoring. At the same time the legend of the candy cane came into being. According to this legend, a candy maker in Indiana designed the candy cane to tell the true story of Christmas - a story about a virgin giving birth to a shepherd who would give up His life for the sheep.
The most obvious symbolism used in the candy cane is its shape. Turned one way, it looks like a "J" for Jesus. The newborn Lamb of God was named Jesus, meaning Savior, because He was destined to "save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). Turned the other way, candy canes remind us of the shepherd's staff. The first people to hear of Christ's birth were shepherds guarding their flocks at night (Lk 2:8-20). Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd and the Bible frequently compares the actions of the Messiah to those of a shepherd searching for his lost sheep, feeding them, gently leading them, and carrying them in his bosom (Ps 23; Jn 10:1-18; Is 40:11; Jer 31:10; Micah 5:4; Heb 13:20). The sweetness of the candy reminds us that we are fed on the sweet milk of the Gospel of our salvation and peace (Eph 1:13; 6:15).
The hardness of the candy reminds us that Jesus is our rock of refuge (Deu 32:4, 15, 18; 1 Sam 2:2; 2 Sam 22:32, 47; 23:3; Psa 18:2, 31; 28:1; 92:15; 94:22; 95:1; Is 44:8). In rocky lands like Israel, people often sought shelter from their enemies in the caves or rocky crags of cliffs. Rocks also remind us of the solidness of the promises of Christ who is a precious cornerstone and sure foundation to those who follow Him, but a "stone of stumbling and a rock of offense" to those who reject His gift of peace (1 Pet 2:6-8).
The whiteness of the candy brings to mind the Virgin Birth and the sinless life of Christ (Mt 1:23; Lk 1:34-35). We also are made as pure as the snow through the cleansing action of His blood (Rev 7:9, 14; Is 1:18).
The traditional candy cane has 3 small red stripes to remind us of the soldiers' stripes by which we are healed and a larger stripe which represents the blood shed by Christ on Calvary's tree (Is 53:5; Mt 27:32-50). Some people say that the 3 small stripes honor the Holy Trinity while the larger stripe reminds us of the one true God. Others claim that the small stripes represent our mini-passions or sufferings and the great stripe symbolizes Christ's Passion. A green stripe is sometimes placed on candy canes to remind us that Jesus is God's gift to us. (Green is the color of giving.)
The peppermint flavor of modern candy canes is said to be similar to hyssop. In Old Testament times, hyssop was associated with purification and sacrifice. During the first Passover celebrations, a bundle of hyssop was used to smear the blood of Passover lambs upon the doorposts of houses so that the Angel of Death would pass over their occupants (Ex 12:22). Bundles of hyssop were also used to sprinkle blood on worshipers and objects during Mosaic purification rituals (Ex 24:6-8; Lev 14:4, 49-52). After his affair with Bathsheba, King David appealed to God's mercy crying, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps 51:7). Peppermint reminds us that Jesus is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7). His blood cleanses us from sin and destroys the power of death (Hosea 13:14; 1 Cor 15:54-57; Heb 2:14-15; Rev 20:6).
Except where otherwise indicated all scripture quotes are from the NKJV.
More information about candy canes is available at:
© 1999 by Suzetta Tucker
To cite this page:
Tucker, Suzetta. "ChristStory Christmas Symbols - Candy Cane." ChristStory Christian Bestiary. 1999. http://ww2.netnitco.net/users/legend01/candycane.htm ().