Unwrapping the Spiritual Significance of Candy Canes

By John Klar

by Danielle Dolin

The celebration of the birth of Emmanuel – God with us; the Word become flesh – is marked in the West by Christmas, the symbolic date upon which the Savior of Mankind came to earth humbly in a manger. The Christ-child remains the center of the Christmas season when we seek meaning around us in Him.

The Christmas holiday has attracted a number of traditions that have nothing to do with Christ, such as doorposts adorned with mistletoe, trees draped in tinsel, flying reindeer, and mantels hung with stockings. Other symbols, such as the creche and the cross, are overtly Christian in their symbolism. Candy canes dangle hazily in the middle – their history and connection to Christian tradition invite reflection.

Those ubiquitous Christmas candy canes in red-and-white swirls are a modern phenomenon. The practice of clergymen distributing sweets of white candy “sugar sticks” is generally traced to a 17th-century German choirmaster who commissioned them to quiet his charges during practice, adding the bent arch as a symbol of a shepherd’s crook, and explaining that the white purity of the cane represented Christ’s sinless life (to justify their distribution in church).

The barber-shop-pole red striping is sometimes attributed to Christ’s sacrificial blood, though this was a 19th-century American addition. Forming the canes without breakage limited mass production and distribution of candy canes until Father Gregory Harding Keller invented and patented the Keller machine in 1957, which twisted and cut the trademark canes to length.

Whether they symbolize “J” for Jesus, the kind shepherd’s crook, or the super-sweet crosier of Christ, candy canes appear like grains of sand on the seashore in America during Christmas. Candy canes are historically the No.-1 selling non-chocolate candy every December, with 90% of annual sales occurring between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The biggest single week for candy cane sales is the second week of December, when the most people decorate their Christmas trees.

Of the estimated 1.76 billion candy canes produced annually in the US, Christians must pray that more and more people celebrating their blessings at this precious, holy time of year will reflect on the possible symbolism of those red-and-white mini-crooks. Mankind’s guiding spiritual shepherd in the form of a crook, forged of a sinless life twinned with sacrificial blood – that’s a sweet and enduring symbol of hope, any time of year!

John Klar is an attorney, author, farmer, and pastor. John strongly advocates for small farms, food choice, homesteaders, and homeschoolers, and believes a robust local food supply is essential for national security and health. John and his wife Jackie live in Brookfield, Vermont, where they raise grass-fed lamb and beef.

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