We are at that point in the year when Thanksgiving is just around the corner, but Christmas has overtaken everything. When I worked in the Hispanic markets this wasn’t just Christmas, it was tamale season. We built huge displays of cornhusks, used to wrap the tamales in. We had tons of lard, literally. There were olives and chilis, masa flour and even the pots to steam the tamales in. It was festive and fun and as some of my customers made tamales, they would bring them in for me to try. The stores took on a different smell during the holidays. When I worked in the grocery store in Lincoln, Nebraska the displays were very different. We sold tons of sugar and flour, nuts and sprinkles of all shapes, sizes, and colors. The candy was different as well. When I first started in the business most of the Christmas candy was made by Brach’s. There were those red raspberry filled candies and the little hard candy assortments. Ribbon candy was a big deal and so were the holiday nougats. Perhaps one of the best sellers, then and now were candy canes.
My favorite grandmother loved candy canes. So much so that every year I bought her the biggest candy cane I could find. They weren’t always shaped like candy canes, but these things were a foot long and as big around as the end of a baseball bat. She would eat on them all year, savoring the treat. Candy canes were not just intended to be a yummy candy treat though. They are a delicious reminder of what Christmas is really all about.
According to the legend of the candy cane, this candy was first created in the 18th century. At that time, in many places in Europe, there was a ban on all public displays of Christianity. Christians were oppressed and no one was allowed to own Bibles or crosses. One man found this to be unacceptable and he looked for a way to share the love of Jesus and the joy of Christmas with the rest of the world. When Christmas came around no one got to see the story of Christmas told through a nativity set. There was no reading of the Christmas gospel from Luke 2. But this determined man was a candy maker and he began to pray about finding a way he could offer the local people a Christmas gift that would allow him to tell the real story of Christmas.
His prayers led to what we now know as the candy cane. He chose to make this candy in the shape of a shepherd’s staff, because Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And He refers to His followers as sheep. The Bible tells us that His sheep would know His voice and follow them. When you turn the shepherds staff upside down, it forms the letter ‘J’. This of course stood for Jesus. Candy canes are hard candy because Jesus is the rock, the foundation for our faith. It was intended to remind everyone that Jesus is our rock. He is dependable and strong.
But the candy maker was not done yet. He added wide stripes to the candy cane, a reminder of Jesus crucifixion and His blood shed for us. Isaiah tells us that by His stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53. And the stripes are red as a reminder that it was Jesus shed blood that brings us salvation. But the candy cane is also white, a reminder of Jesus purity…His sinlessness. The candy maker choose the flavor of peppermint for this candy cane. Peppermint is very similar to the scent of hyssop, which was used for sacrifices and purification in the Old Testament. Peppermint reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us when He died on that cross. Hyssop was also the branch the soldiers used to extend to Jesus a sponge full of sour wine to drink as He hung on the cross.
When we eat this candy, we break it. This reminds us that when Jesus was crucified His body was broken., We are also reminded of that when we receive communion. The words this is my body broken for you remind us every week of the horrible death Jesus suffered for us. This candy, the candy cane, was originally intended to be given as a gift. That represents the gift of love Jesus gave us in salvation. No one knows for sure if this legend is true but what it says about the candy is. This candy cane was a way for the candy maker to tell others about the story of Christmas and why we celebrate today. Sometimes we give candy canes out on Christmas Eve at church…a reminder of the story.
I don’t know if my grandmother knew the legend or not. Perhaps she just really liked peppermint candy! But I do know she loved Jesus and she loved to share Him. I can’t find the peppermint candy like I used to get her, anymore. But every time I see candy canes, I think of her love for the candy, her love for Jesus and her love for me.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W