This may not come as a shock to you to learn that candy canes, per the National Confectioner’s Association, are the top-selling non-chocolate candy during the month of December. It should also not be shocking to know that 90 percent of those tasty red and white striped candies are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The second week in December is by far the biggest week for sales and that is because most families are decorating their Christmas trees at that time. Buddy the Elf would be so pleased to know this.
Candy canes are produced at a rate that is mind-boggling – over 1.76 billion annually. But it’s the how and when these red and white sweets got their start that is a bit murky.
THE CANDY CANE INVENTION
It is said that the original candy cane came to be way back in 1670. A Cologne Cathedral (in Cologne, Germany) choirmaster needed something to dampen the noise created by the singing children during his church’s Living Crèche (live nativity scene) tradition on Christmas Eve. So, he asked the local candymaker to make some sugar sticks for them.
In order for the choirmaster to justify handing out candy during a worship service, he also asked the candymaker to add the hook at the top so it would resemble a shepherd’s staff and those who visited baby Jesus.
Turns out candy canes were a much better option than smacking the rowdy children with a switch, a popular display of discipline during that time.
The very first treat was all sugary white. The choirmaster used their white color to also teach the children about Jesus’ sinless life. Their popularity spread throughout Europe and was handed out mainly during plays that reenacted the Nativity.
For over 200 years, they kept that white color. They were introduced to the United States by German-Swedish immigrant August Imgard in 1847 when he decorated a small tree with paper ornaments and white candy canes.
THE CANDY CANE – A SECRET CODE?
While the origins above are easy to believe, another legend coming from those wonderful peppermint sticks may be a little more difficult to swallow – the stripes. True, they came to America all white, but according to legend, stripes were invented before their arrival.
As legend has it, stripes were put on candy canes as a secret code among the persecuted Christians in 17th century Germany and England. Supposedly it was a secret language among the Christians, all depending on the stripe. One stripe concerned Jesus’ sacrifice; three stripes were the trinity.
Of course, there was another legend – its “J” shape was an homage to the “J” in Jesus. While much of this is just urban legend, it does give one something to think about.
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EARLY CANDY CANE PRODUCTION
When the red and white striped candy found its footing in America, they were, like most candy, made by hand. It wasn’t until the early 1920s and the Bunte Brothers when the first candy cane-making machines were patented.
Robert McCormack began producing candy canes in 1919 and by the middle of the 1900s, his Mills-McCormack company was one of the world’s leading candy cane manufacturers. The problem still was that candy canes required an enormous amount of labor, even with the advent of the automated machines. They still had to be bent as they came out, which slowed the process and caused over 20% to break.
Thankfully, McCormack’s brother-in-law, George Harding Keller, patented the Keller Machine in 1957. This invention automated the process of twisting the candy into the spiral striping and hook and also cutting the candy into precise lengths.
THE SPANGLERS ARE DUM DUMS…AND MORE
Since 1906, the Spangler family has been in the candy production business. The products they manufacture include lollipops, marshmallow circus peanuts, and yes, candy canes. The brands the Spangler’s produce are Dum Dums, Whistle Pops, Saf-T-Pops, Spangler Circus Peanuts, and Spangler Candy Canes.
With their headquarters in Bryan, Ohio, they have given Bryan its identity as the “Dum Dum capitol of the world.” Today, Spangler produces over 45% of the candy canes sold in America. They make an astounding 2.7 million of them per day.
Spangler doesn’t just produce the traditional candy cane. They also have various fun flavors and sizes and are by far the biggest candy cane producers in the U.S.
CHECKING IN WITH THE HAMMONDS
The Hammonds are no slouch when it comes to producing candy canes. They are known as the largest handmade-candy factory in the United States. They have been making candy for almost 100 years.
Hammonds is also known for producing popcorn, licorice and sour bites, lollipops, nuts, and brittle, but candy canes are their most popular item, and they produce almost 2 million a year. They definitely give Spanglers a run for the money when it comes to candy cane production.
HOW DO YOU EAT YOURS?
The big question here is: How do you eat your candy cane, curved end or straight end first? Maybe it depends on the size of the sweet. Either way you do it, there doesn’t appear to be a shortage this year, though getting them into the stores may be a different story. Find them, get them, and enjoy them.