This Is Why We Eat Candy Canes on Christmas
Between wreaths, frosted sugar cookies, and holiday coffee cups, there’s one thing that’s equally as ubiquitous at Christmastime: candy canes.
Candy canes are one of those holiday treats that are hard not to love. In fact, demand is so high that 1.76 billion are produced each year—with more than 90 percent sold in the month before Christmas. They’re the most popular non-chocolate candy purchased during the holidays, and they’re so iconic of the yuletide season that they’ve earned their own holiday, National Candy Cane Day, on December 26.
Why do so many people love them so much? There are more reasons than you can shake a (curved) stick at, but do you know how they came to be a Christmas tradition? Let’s take a look.
Candy canes are much older than you think—and originally weren’t meant for just Christmas
According to CandyHistory.net, candy canes were originally created over 350 years ago, and were originally made as straight sticks flavored with sugar only. It’s long been believed that the now-famous crook shape came about in 1670, when a German choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral bent the candy sugar sticks to make them look like shepherd’s hooks. These candies were given out to children who attended church ceremonies, in an effort to bribe them to keep them quiet and well-behaved. This custom eventually spread across Europe and America and became popular.
They’ve evolved a lot over the years
In 1847, August Imgard, a German-Swedish immigrant living in Wooster, Ohio, decorated his Christmas tree with candy canes, along with paper ornaments. This was the first documented use of candy canes in relation to the celebration of Christmas, and it clearly caught on and became a Christmas tradition.
However, according to Christmas cards of that era, candy canes were still all white—they didn’t get their stripes until about half a century later. We don’t know why the stripes were added (it’s a historical mystery as to why this became a thing), but from old card illustrations, we can tell that the first red and white striped canes made their debut in the beginning of the 20th century.
Around this time, candy makers also incorporated the peppermint flavor, which became associated as a traditional holiday flavor around the 1950s. That’s also when candy canes got a big boost in popularity, thanks to technology that made it much easier to make the oddly-shaped, holiday-flavored treat more quickly.
Candymaker Bob McCormack had started making canes in 1919 in his hometown of Albany, Georgia, but he was bending them by hand. Then in 1957, his brother-in-law invented a machine to bend the sticks automatically, changing the candy game dramatically.
McCormack’s company is now Bobs Candies, and they still sell candy canes. (Also, one fun fact Bobs Candies shares on its site it that its treats were the first candy to be wrapped in cellophane!)
Unusual flavors are the new trend
According to The Kitchn, until about 10 years ago, Spangler Candy Co. (based in Bryan, Ohio) still manufactured and sold plain white sugar candy canes that looked like the original candy canes, but more recently the demand for new colors and flavors has taken over. Today, while red-and-white peppermint-flavored candy canes are still regarded as the traditional version for the holiday season, you can now find them in various colors and flavors in candy stores across America, from berry and chocolate candy flavors to unusual savory ones, like bacon , pickle, and sriracha.
Candy canes are more than just a sweet treat
Candy canes make cute tree ornaments, and in fact half of all shoppers who buy them are using them as ornaments! They also work as easy gift embellishments, festive party accessories or favors, and popular stocking stuffers—they’re the second-most popular candy put in stockings, after foil-wrapped chocolates. And of course we like to eat them, too—the minty sweet stick is unlikely to be turned down by kids or adults during the holiday season. From creative touches for your holiday party to whipping up some candy cane peppermint bark for gifting, there are so many ways you can use candy canes.
Now that you’re armed with the history behind this ever-present Christmas candy, go ahead and grab a stick and enjoy!