Candy canes add a festive touch

Candy canes add a festive touch to Christmas trees, table arrangements, even your own front door. (Heather Burns photo)

There are several images that invoke the excitement of the holiday season.

Santa and his reindeer, a towering Christmas Tree, or a stocking hung by the chimney with care, all depict a traditional holiday.

The candy cane has been an essential component of these holiday scenes for centuries. Many Christ­mas trees are trimmed with this festive candy. No stocking is complete without a candy cane tucked safely inside, and no visit with Santa is complete without a complementary candy cane gift from the big guy.

The red and white candy stripe is also the inspiration for many Christmas decor themes, wrapping paper prints, holiday tableware, and Christmas card designs. It is also an important gingerbread house accessory.

It is fair to say the candy cane has an impressive influence on the holiday season, and for a relatively inexpensive price, the candy cane packs quite a holiday punch.

According to the National Con­fectioners Association, candy canes are the number one selling non-chocolate candy during the month of December. Nearly 1.76 billion candy canes are produced in the U.S. each year.

Most historians will agree that the candy cane dates back to mid 17th century Europe when pulled sugar (and ancestor to the modern day sugar stick) was all the rage. During this period of candy making history in Germany, somehow a hook was added to the traditional candy stick to make the first candy cane.

Legend has it that a German choirmaster gave candy sticks to his choir boys to keep them from fidgeting during service. To get around the rule of no sweets in church, the choirmaster added a hook onto the candy stick to resemble a shepherd's staff in the Na­tivity story. By giving the candy a religious reference, this pleased the clergy, and the candy was allowed.

Although many agree this is a plausible reason for the candy cane, it is more likely that the German candy crafters added the hook for ease when hanging the candy on a Christmas tree.

In Germany, as well as many European cultures, it was a holiday tradition to trim the tree with cookies, fruits, and candy treats. The making of the candy cane was a perfect invention for decorating the tree.

After becoming a staple holiday tradition in Europe, the candy cane made its U.S. debut in 1847. A German-Swedish immigrant introduced Wooster, Ohio to a blue spruce Christmas Tree decorated with pa­per ornaments and white candy canes.

Since then, decking the halls with candy canes has become an Am­erican tradition as well.

Although the iconic red and white striped candy cane has become synonymous with Christmas decor, the original candy canes were pure white and had a simple sugar flavor for the first 200 or so years.

The now popular red and white, peppermint flavored candy cane didn’t appear until the turn of the 20th century.

It is not clear exactly how or when the red and white candy cane of today came into existence.

We do know that Christmas cards and other holiday publications made before the turn of the 20th century depicted candy canes as pure white, but publications after 1900 picture the candy cane as our traditional red and white treat.

The Christian faith is happy to place meaning in the red and white color. It is said that the three red stripes represent the Holy Trinity, or more commonly, that the red stripes represent the blood of Jesus.

Besides the traditional red and white peppermint variety, today candy canes come in a wide selection of colors and flavors, including chocolate mint, sour watermelon, and sweet fruit flavors like cherry and grape. However, traditional peppermint still remains a holiday favorite.

Candy canes have traditionally been a fun and inexpensive addition to your Christmas Tree decorations, but can be used in many ways with your holiday decor and preparations.

Attach a candy cane to bows and gift wrap for an extra special touch.

A candy cane at each place setting at the dinner table makes for a festive favor.

Add a few candy canes to the holiday centerpiece for some minty merriment at your table.

Crushed candy canes can add some extra Christmas flavor to many of your favorite holiday recipes and cocktails.

Although the candy cane is ar­guably sugar simplicity at its best, the proper way to eat a candy cane has been a point of contention for years.

According to a survey done by the National Confectioners Association, 72 percent of people agree that the proper way to eat a candy cane is to start on the straight end, while 28 percent start on the curved end.

My experience tells me that starting on the straight end is definitely the less messy route, but eating the curved end is more fun. I say be adventurous and go against the grain by starting with the curved end. Either way, it has that same magical, minty flavor that brings you back to wonderful holiday memories with each refreshing bite!

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