Why candy canes?

The long and the short of it is we don't know! There are plenty of origin myths about the candy cane, but the truth behind it's invention remains shrouded in mystery. Before we get to what we know, let's briefly explore two of the most popular origin myths.

Christian Symbolism: Many people believe the candy was created to symbolize the following: white to represent the purity of Christ, red stripes to recall Jesus' blood, and a hooked shape, meant to be reminiscent of a shepherd's staff.

Cologne Cathedral Choirmaster: Another myth centers around a choirmaster working at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany in the late seventeenth century. According to legend the kindly choirmaster was the first to bend sticks of peppermint candy into a J-shape to symbolize a shepherd's staff. He then gave the candies to children attending the long Christmas Eve Mass/Nativity.


Likely the candy cane was shaped into a hook to make it easier to hang on Christmas trees, a tradition that was popularized in Germany. Germans also used cookies, fruit, and candies to decorate their Christmas trees.

Candy canes didn't receive their customary red stripes until the late 19th century, probably to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

What else do we know about candy canes?

  • In 1957 Fr. Gregory Harding Keller, a Roman Catholic priest, invented the Keller machine, which automated the process of bending, shaping, and cutting candy canes. Before the machine was invented, candy factories broke approximately 20% of candy canes produced.
  • Approximately 1.76 billion candy canes are made every year—that's enough for every fourth person on earth to enjoy one!