The Candy Cane Controversy

December 18th, 2004 - 5:32 AM PST

By Matt Abbott
Op/Ed

Ever wonder about the origin of, and symbolism behind, the candy cane? I hadn't until the other day.

(I know this isn't exactly a pressing matter, but, hey, we are approaching the Christmas season.)

In the bulletin of a Catholic church I attend, there was a section titled "Christmas Ornaments and their Meanings," with this about the candy cane:

"The candy cane begins with a stick of white candy. The white symbolizes the purity of Christ. Red stripes remind us of the blood shed by Christ on the cross for us so that we may have eternal life. The candy cane is formed into a 'J' to represent the precious name of Jesus. It also represents the staff of the Good Shepherd. Its hard consistency represents the Solid Rock, the foundation of the church and the firmness of the promises of Christ."

Interesting, I thought. So I decided to do a "Google" search on the subject. After typing in the proverbial few key words, a link to a page on the "Urban Legends Reference Pages" site, snopes.com, popped up. Here's a snippet of what snopes.com has to say on the origin of the candy cane:

"The strongest connection one can make between the origins of the candy cane and intentional Christian symbolism is to note that legend says someone took an existing form of candy which was already being used as a Christmas decoration (i.e., straight white sticks of sugar candy) and produced bent versions which represented a shepherd's crook and were handed out to children at church to ensure their good behavior."

(The entire page can be read here: www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/candycane.asp)

I thought I'd ask, via e-mail, my computer, religion and politics-savvy friend, Bill Grossklas of Elmhurst, Ill., about this candy cane controversy. Bill's response:

"I believe snopes is correct, from what I know of it. However, that being said, there is no reason why any Christian cannot utilize the candy cane for a symbolism of a Christian nature as the story tells it. I would use it in my Christmas decorations (and have) for the reasons given in the tale. So it makes little difference what its true origin was; it is used for what I wish. I have essentially appropriated it for Christmas and anyone is free to do the same. So, then, if someone asks why you have candy canes on your Christmas tree, you can state the reasons given in the story. Nothing wrong or dishonest in that."

Take that, ACLU.

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