CANDY CANES: True history?

op-brooksshowWhere did today’s candy cane originate?

On one hand, there are multiple tales that attempt to tie the candy cane back to Christian or Catholic origins and which myths have significant historical problems as seen in the article at this link.  Some of the tales include:

  • A tale about a Christian Indiana candy maker who decided to incorporate Christian meaning into his candy by creating a candy cane that looked like a “Good Shepherd” cane, while another explanation is that the crook in the cane represented the letter “J” for Jesus. The tale also gives Christian meaning to the colors such as saying the red represents Jesus’ blood, and so forth.
  • The Candy Cane

    The Candy Cane

    A tale which places the credit upon a Catholic choirmaster in Cologne, Germany who supposedly commissioned a local candy maker to create the cane in order to keep his children from talking during choir practice and to represent Christian elements as well.

  • A tale of a Georgia candy maker, who with the help of his brother-in-law who was a Catholic priest, shaped candy canes into a “J” shape for “Jesus” in the past century.
  • Other tales of how people wanted candy for hanging on Christmas trees or other such purposes.

As snopes.com points out, the fictional tales of candy cane origins are “the subject of a number of colorful Christmas volumes, including The Candymaker’s Gift: A Legend of the Candy Cane by Helen Haidle (1996), The Candy Cane Story by Joy Merchant Nall and Thomas Nall, Jr. (1996), The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg (1997), and the children’s book The “J” Is for Jesus by Alice Joyce Davidson (1998)”.

This 12 key-stem model 30 of a mechanical cash machine is known as a "Fine Scroll National Barbershop Candy Cash Register". It reflects the connection between candy sales and barbershops.

This 12 key-stem model 30 of a mechanical cash machine is known as a “Fine Scroll National Barbershop Candy Cash Register”. It reflects the connection between candy sales and barbershops.

Pastors and school teachers around the world are probably reading some such account to their congregation or classroom with tears streaming down their face without any idea whatsoever that the account they are reading is probably fictional.

Where did the candy cane originate?  The truth is nobody knows for sure.  However, if we look to the origin of words and the oldest of traditions, we might find some hint of its origins, although, from my research, there is no way of verifying any tale of this candy’s origins at this time.

For example, some barbershop cash registers are called “Candy Cash Registers” implying a connection between the sale of candy at the barbershops.  A search on eBay will probably bring you results for several of these machines.   As a child, I remember the barber would give you candy after you finished your haircut.  The connection between barbers and candy are also seen in the short historical blurb found at the OldTimeCandy.com website which states:

85768“Stick candy, also called candy sticks, barber pole candy or barber poles have been in production since before the Civil War. They are usually four to seven inches in length and 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter, but in some cases they are made in sizes up to 12 inches in length and two inches in diameter. Like candy canes, they usually have at least two different colors swirled together in a spiral pattern, resembling a barber’s pole.”

barber polesThe Wikipedia article at this link states:

“The old-fashioned American stick candy is sometimes also referred to as “barber pole candy” …”

Nature.com, in its origin of noble sugar canes, tells us of the origins of the “sugar cane”. The use of sugar canes for walking canes and the use of sugar canes for candy seems a plausible reason why the two are connected as seen in this articlethis article and this dictionary reference article.  Also, it is interesting to note that many barbershop quartets use the colors of red and white, as well as canes as seen at this link and at this link.

Barber shop

Barber shop

Also, the barbershops have barber poles in front of them that were once red, blue, and white spiraled like a helix, but which are now usually just red and white spiraled. The meaning of these barber poles are quite old, dating back to the time of the Dark Ages when surgery, bloodletting and leeching were common practices of barbers as seen in this article and also in this Wikipedia article. The venial color of blood is blue and the arterial color of blood is red with both colors connected to surgery which reportedly is where the blue and red striped colors associated with barbering emanated.  The white stripe was reported to be the color of the hair cutting business as seen in this encyclopedia article.

The Worshipful Company of Barbers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London, and as Wikipedia states:

The traditional red and white 'polkagris' candy from Sweden

The traditional red and white ‘polkagris’ candy from Sweden

“The organisation’s records date from as early as 1308, recording Richard le Barber as holding the office of Master. Barbers originally aided monks, who were at the time the traditional practitioners of medicine and surgery, because Papal decrees prohibited members of religious orders themselves from spilling blood. In addition to haircutting, hairdressing, and shaving, barbers performed surgery: neck manipulation; cleansing of ears and scalp; draining/lancing of boils, fistulae, and cysts with wicks; bloodletting and leeching; fire cupping; enemas; and the extraction of teeth.”

Worshipful Company of Barbers date back to the Middle Ages as seen in this Coat of Arms.  These are the arms of the Worshipful Company of Barbers at the East end of the South aisle of St Giles Cripplegate.

Worshipful Company of Barbers date back to the Middle Ages as seen in this Coat of Arms. These are the arms of the Worshipful Company of Barbers at the East end of the South aisle of St Giles Cripplegate.

Barberpole candy also seems to have a different name and history in Sweden where it is called Polkagris candy whose origins emanate from Polka dancing and its invention dates from 1859 in Granna, Sweden.

If the candy is sometimes called barberpole, could it be that barbers used to sell or handout polkagris to their customers?  Since the candy contains peppermint which was used heavily for medicinal purposes as seen in the article at this link, and since barbers were historically a medical practice from the Middle Ages, is it possible the candy cane is a type of barberpole candy?  Did the candy come into association with the well-known barberpole? If so, who added the “cane look” to it? Was it commissioned by barbers or just merely used by them?

The truth is that we may never know the origins of this candy, but we can all enjoy a stick of candy cane as we meditate upon this mystery.

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