According to folklore, in 1670, in Cologne, Germany, the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral, wishing to remedy the noise caused by children in his church during the Living Crèche tradition of Christmas Eve, asked a local candy maker for some sweet sticks for them. In order to justify the practice of giving candy to children during worship services, he asked the candy maker to add a crook to the top of each stick, which would help children remember the shepherds who paid visit to infant Jesus. In addition, he used the white color of the converted sticks to teach children about the Christian belief in the sinless life of Jesus. From Germany, the candy canes spread to other parts of Europe, where they were handed out during plays reenacting the Nativity.
Snopes.com – a web site that researches urban legends, Internet rumors, e-mail forwards, and other stories of unknown or questionable origin – deems the account false, citing its “significant historical problems” and the inability to provide conclusive evidence that verifies the account.
A recipe for straight peppermint candy sticks, white with colored stripes, was published in 1844. The candy cane has been mentioned in literature since 1866, was first mentioned in association with Christmas in 1874, and as early as 1882 was hung on Christmas trees.
Chicago confectioners the Bunte Brothers filed the one of the earliest patents for candy cane making
|An early image of candy canes|
But candy cane manufacturing initially required a fair bit of labor that limited production quantities. The canes had to be bent manually as they came off the assembly line in order to create their ‘J’ shape, and breakage often ran over 20 percent. It was McCormack’s brother-in-law, a seminary student in Rome named Gregory Harding Keller, who used to spend his summers back home working in the candy factory. In 1957, now ordained a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Little Rock, Keller patented his invention, the Keller Machine which automated the process of twisting soft candy into spiral striping and then cutting them into precise lengths as candy canes. Fr. Keller and his machine gained national fame in the 1960s when he was a contestant on the popular TV show What’s My Line.