As the name suggests, the candy cane, as we know it, was introduced from the USA and is associated with Christmas. The canes are typically made from sugar, glucose syrup, water, flavouring, and colours. They are about 12cms long, though some are smaller. Traditionally they are red and white and flavoured with peppermint; though they are now manufactured in different colours and flavours. If wrapped individually they can be hung on a Christmas tree as a decoration and indeed there are now plastic ones sold purely as ornaments.
Candy canes are widely available but even those marketed with English sounding names may well be made in China.
The history of candy canes is a mixture of hard fact and legend. A straight white stick candy was introduced at an exhibition in Massachusetts in 1837, with red stripes introduced a few years later. The term candy cane was first recorded in 1866 and the first connection to Christmas dates from 1874.
The legend is more romantic and has led to strong religious symbolism being attached to the canes. The story is that in 1670, the choirmaster of Cologne Cathedral, wanting to ensure the children were quiet during the long Christmas Eve service, asked a local confectioner to make a suitable product and the result was a cane shaped like a shepherd’s crook in keeping with the story of the Nativity.
There are children’s books relating the legend and verses on how the canes can be used in religious education. Here is one example:
Look at a candy cane. What do you see?
Stripes that are red, like the blood shed for me.
White for my Saviour, who’s sinless and pure!
‘J’ is for Jesus, My Lord that’s for sure!
Turn it around and a staff you will see.
Jesus, my Shepherd is coming for me!