Sunday, December 26, 2021

What Put the "Pep" in Peppermint?

 by Cindy Regnier

Anybody a fan of Buddy the Elf? In his famous words, “We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” Yeah, it might be great to be an elf. But since we’re not (let me know if I’m wrong about that) let’s see if we can discover where the iconic peppermint candy of Christmas may have originated.

According to the National Confectioners Association, candy canes are the No. 1 selling non-chocolate candy during the month of December, with 90 percent of the red and white striped treats sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Raise your hand if you buy a few to decorate your tree or baked goods. Maybe even just for a festive snack.

According to one legend the candy cane dates back to 1670, when the choirmaster of a German church made sugar sticks to hand out to the young singers to keep them quiet during the Living Creche ceremony. (I bet that would work for a few minutes, anyway) Great idea!

Except then, as the story goes, the church board wouldn’t allow the treats saying they were not appropriate for church. Spoil sports! So, in response to the veto, the inventive choirmaster added a hook, making the stick resemble a shepherd’s crook, a “religious reference.” That must have done the trick for the treats were allowed and so began the tradition.

If not completely accurate, most candy experts (how do I get that job?) agree that the legend has some credibility, but it may be as simple as the German confectioners added the hook to hang them from trees as it was common at the time to hang cookies and fruit as tree decorations.

Ok, I can buy that (and usually do buy a few to peep out of stockings), but what about the red stripes? Candy canes were originally white and I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that’s not quite as festive. The white candy first appeared in the United States about 1847. A German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard, decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and white candy canes. That’s how things were done before mass production techniques made other colors and patterns possible. 

Around the turn of the 20th century, the red stripes and peppermint flavor were added and immediately became a favorite, probably because of—good marketing? The stripes originally came with Christian based stories (maybe true or maybe not) such as it being a secret code among persecuted Christians; a secret language amongst the Christian faithful or even representing the blood of Jesus. The theory of the “J” shape standing for Jesus is a nice story to tell, but in reality, is an urban legend. 

Or who knows? Maybe someone just thought the red stripes looked festive.

And just to throw something else into the mix, people even disagree on how to eat a candy cane. One survey found that 72 percent of people think that starting on the straight end is the "proper" way to eat a candy cane, while 28 percent start at the curved end. What’s your process for devouring the treat? No, really, I’d like to know!

Merry Christmas and enjoy your candy canes! 

Scribbling in notebooks has been a habit of Cindy Regnier since she was old enough to hold a pencil. She writes stories of historical Kansas, especially the Flint Hills area where she spent much of her childhood. Cindy is married to her husband of 39 years, has two grown sons, a son in heaven, and two beautiful daughters-in-law. Her experiences with the Flint Hills setting, her natural love for history, farming and animals, along with her interest in genealogical research give her the background and passion to write heart-fluttering historical romance.



  1. Thanks for the post! Usually by the time I get to eat a candy cane they have broken so I just start with whichever piece is smallest! Hope your Christmas season is filled with candy cane cheer!

  2. I guess for some reason I felt the Candy Cane represented the staff of the Shephard. White representing GOD's son's Purity and Righteousness and the Red the Blood of the Lamb. Merry Christmas!!

    1. I like that answer a lot! Thanks for being a faithful reader!