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Candy from Heaven?

Published December 1, 2007
Countries: None
Age Levels: 8 and up

Wrapped in plastic - Red and white?  Curved at the end like a shepherd's crook?  Made of sugar?  Peppermint flavored?  Did you guess yet?  It's a Candy Cane! 

We buy them at Christmas time and eat them piece-by-piece for months after.  Little ones suck on these sticks of sugar until they are covered with sticky around their mouths and fingers.  Lint from hats and scarves sticks to their faces until mothers follow an age-old custom learned from their own parents of spitting on a handkerchief and using it to "clean" away the offending stickiness.  Older children lick them into sharp points and poke one another.  Teens crunch away and cause the Candy Canes to disappear in seconds.  And seniors break them into pieces and dare to eat a piece of the whole only after counting the calories and carb units in the fraction of the candy cane they want to eat.

These memorable holiday candies got their start in Cologne, Germany around 1670.  Wow!  And you only thought fruitcakes were old and traveled around the world.  The choirmaster of the Cathedral in Cologne handed out "sugar sticks" to keep the children quiet during the long Christmas Eve service.  We don't know if the choirmaster made the sugar sticks himself or if he hired a candy maker (confectioner) to create them.  Either way, he made certain the sticks were curved at one end to resemble shepherds' crooks.  It could be to remember the shepherds in the fields near the first nativity.  But more likely, it was to pattern after the symbol of the Bishop who conducted the service.  The canes were completely white and did not have any flavoring added to them.

It's hard to keep a good idea quiet, and soon Candy Canes were appearing all over Europe at the Christmas season.  The all-white Candy Canes were perfect to use as ornaments on Christmas Trees and were added to other decorations as well.

It was German immigrants who first brought Candy Canes to America in the 1840's.  The first reports of this came from Wooster, Ohio in 1847 where August Imgard, a German-Swedish Immigrant, became the talk of the town when he decorated a small blue spruce tree with paper ornaments and the all-white Candy Canes.

It was not until the turn of the century when Candy Canes developed their familiar red and white stripes that we see today.  Before 1900, all pictures and drawings of Candy Canes showed them as all-white.  After 1900, the stripes seemed to appear without explanation.  There are articles that suggest the color white in Candy Canes represents Christ's purity, the red the blood he shed, and the presence of three red stripes the Holy Trinity. But, factual evidence for these notions could not be found.  Never the less, the familiar stripes we see today appeared at about the same time that peppermint, wintergreen and spearmint flavorings began to be added to the traditional holiday treats.

In the 1920's, a gentleman named Bob MacCormack began making Candy Canes each Christmas for family members and friends in Albany, Georgia.  The process was long and tedious.  The hand-labor meant the number of Candy Canes made it hard to make them available for wide scale distribution in stores.  However, the popularity of the Candy Cane and other sweets made by MacCormack and his business partner Bob Mills allowed them to build one of the few candy businesses to survive the Great Depression, under the name Bobs� Candies.  Breakage and meltdowns from humidity still made it hard for Candy Canes to become the big money maker.  Products had to be used right away or thrown out as the hard candy had a short shelf life.  The sticks became gummy, and the colors bled.  This remained true until 1946 when air conditioners were installed to de-humidify the wrapping room.

Everything was in place to make Candy Canes the great Christmas candy that many of us have grown up with except for the time-consuming hand labor that was needed.  Then, Bob's brother-in-law, Gregory Kellor, invented a machine in the 1950s that automated the process.  It must have been kind of a church thing - since just as the inventor of the Christmas sweet was a choir director, the inventor of the automated Candy Cane maker was a Catholic Priest.  The making of Candy Canes became a precise operation, and much of the breakage was eliminated.  The younger members of MacCormack's family continued to improve the manufacturing process and invented the wrappers and packaging that we still use today for this special holiday candy.

During the 1970's and 1980's the making of Candy Canes improved again.  The cooking process changed from working with pure sugar to manufacturing the canes with a mixture of sugar and corn syrup.  The canes were still as sweet, but more durable.  During the 1980�s the one manufacturing plant made and shipped more than 236 million Candy Canes a year.  Sales of Candy canes have continued to increase throughout the years.  In 2005, Farley's and Sather Candy Company, Inc. bought out the famous Bobs' Candies and continue to produce Candy Canes to meet our holiday fixation.

As I celebrate Christmas each year, I think about adding a Candy Cane to sweeten my warm holiday drink as I offer you this toast from a famous holiday song, "May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white - and sometimes have a red stripes wrapped around them."    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Copyright 2007 - Mike Lockett,  Illustration by Chung Yi-Ru, Copyright (2014) Owned by Mike Lockett

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