With carols, colors, lights, decorations and delicacies, December commemorates the most awaited celebration of the whole year! Even if the preceding months have passed by without great signs of devotion or faith, special graces knock on the door at this time of year. In homes of both the poor and rich, families celebrate the Birth of the Infant God!
In some countries, there is one detail that is inseparable from the festivities: the candy cane. Simple yet beautiful, this unique treat has long served as a charming addition to the ornaments of Christmas, delighting both adults and children.
The candy cane, a tradition that goes back to the 17th century, arose as the solution found by the choirmaster of Cologne Cathedral chapel to quiet noisy children during Christmas concerts. Every year, a musical performance in honor of the Newborn Child was prepared there with Germanic care. The meticulous choice of carols, the variety of instruments, and the exquisite coral renditions made those tributes an eagerly awaited moment.
Nevertheless, the impeccable musical performance was always interspersed with the cries, frolicking and shouts of the children, which evidently disturbed the presentation. In order to solve the problem, the conductor ordered a confectioner to prepare sugar sticks to keep the younger members of the audience entertained during the concert.
However, to distribute candy on such a pious occasion – especially inside the church – some justification was needed. Accordingly, they were designed to be made in the form of canes, alluding to the staffs of the shepherds who visited the Infant Jesus. It was also decided that the canes be white to symbolize the virginal birth of Mary.
Once they had been distributed, the carols were at last a success! The brilliant result of the experiment made it a tradition. From Germany, candy canes spread all over Europe, being handed out during the Christmas plays. Thus, they became one of the most symbolic ornaments of this liturgical period.
Further explanations arose to associate the candy canes more closely with the birth of the Redeemer: some indicate their sweetness as a reminder that we are nourished and comforted by the words of the Holy Gospel; others associate their shape with the first letter of the Name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Still others affirm that the hardness of the sweet stick is a symbol of Christ, a firm rock for the faithful and a rock of scandal for those who reject Him. And, for good reason, there were also those who identified this solidity with the strength of the Holy Catholic Church.
The traditional candy cane bears three red stripes, a number that evokes the Blessed Trinity. Some attribute their red color to the sufferings of Christians united to those of the Redeemer. However, the majority consider them as a reminder of the Most Precious Blood shed for the love of mankind.
The peppermint flavor that the sweet later acquired suggests the aroma of hyssop, a bush whose branches were used in the Old Testament to sprinkle the people with blood. Because it is linked to the idea of sacrifice and purification, the presence of this plant in the flavor of the candy canes reminds us that Our Lord Jesus Christ cleansed us from sin and sanctified us by the merits of His Passion and Death on the Cross.
These are some of the various analogies that the candy cane has awakened in pious minds, raising them from a material, simple and everyday reality to the heights of the supernatural life.
And we, in this chaotic 21st century, in which a kind of spiritual “visor” seems to prevent humanity from contemplating loftier things, will we know how to elevate our minds to the true meaning of Christmas? Let us use the rich symbolism surrounding the celebrations of Christ’s birth to help us lift our hearts and prepare them for His coming. ◊
Taken from the Heralds of the Gospel magazine, #158.