Candy Canes and the real meaning of Christmas
Today in Sunday School, our last Sunday before Christmas, reviewed our theme for the past several weeks answering the question, “Why are we here?” Last week we discussed the “Fruits of the Spirit,” and to review today we played last week’s podcast. (5 minutes long) We discussed how the themes of each week in Advent (hope, peace, love, and joy) overlap / are the same as some of the fruits of the Spirit discussed by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23.
Our primary lesson today focused on the history of the candy cane and the symbolism it can have for us as Christians during the holiday season. We have several books in our church library about the history of the candy cane, including “The Candymaker’s Gift” by Helen Haidle and David Haidle as well as “The Legend of the Candy Cane” by Lori Walburg VandenBosch and James Bernardin. We discussed how both of these books are titled “the LEGEND,” because while they are based on historical facts, they are not entirely historically accurate. We also discussed how at holiday times, there are many traditions we may follow and stories we may hear which can be traced from non-religious sources. It is important to discuss these things, so we know why we do them and what they mean. The most critical lesson and idea of the Christmas season for us, as Christians, is that God sent his son Jesus to earth so we could learn how to live and be able to obtain forgiveness for our sins, thanks to God’s amazing grace. That IS A fact, and the reason for the Christmas season.
We referenced the “Origin of the Candy Cane” article on Snopes.com, which “debunks” a popular email circulated in 2007 which contended the candy cane was invented in Indiana as a Christian symbol. VandenBosch and Bernardin’s book, “The Legend of the Candy Cane,” does include an excellent historical overview of the candy cane, including some of the elements referenced in the Snopes article. These are referenced in the current WikiPedia article for “candy cane:”
The distinctive “hook” shape associated with candy canes is traditionally credited to a choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral in Germany, who, legend has it, in 1670 bent straight candy sticks into canes to represent a shepherd’s crook, and gave them to children at church services. The shepherd’s staff is often used in Christianity as a metaphor for The Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. It is also possible that, as people decorated their Yule trees with food, the bent candy cane was invented as a functional solution.
In Europe candy canes were used to decorate Yule trees along with other items of food. In North America, the first documented example of the use of candy canes to celebrate Christmas occurred in 1847, when a German-Swedish immigrant by the name of August Imgard hung the candy canes from the branches of a Christmas tree. Christmas cards from the following decades show Christmas trees decorated with candy canes, first white canes, then striped ones in the 20th century. This then spread to the rest of the continent, where it continues to remain a popular Christmas tradition.
We discussed how remarkable it is that peppermint flavoring did not become commonly available until the early 20th century. We take peppermints for granted today, as well as many other things. It is important that as we are surrounded by the sights, sounds, smells, and activities of the Christmas holiday season, we remember the symbolism of things like our advent wreath and candy canes.
This past week I heard about a new book which argues Santa Claus is able to use a variety of technologies far more advanced than anything we have today. The book is “The Truth about Santa: Wormholes, Robots, and What Really Happens on Christmas Eve” by Gregory Mone. While this story and many others may be fun to read and share at Christmas time, it is critical remember what we know to be true about Christmas, God, and his son Jesus Christ. The story of Christ’s birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection is not “just a story” like many other books we may read at Christmas time. In many ways, this is THE STORY which should direct our thoughts and actions not only in December each year, but every day.
Note: Next week all students in grades K-5 will gather in “Miracle Movies” at the church for a pajama party and a “Happy Birthday Jesus Party.” Feel free to wear your PJs to church next week, and meet us in Miracle Movies.
May God bless you and your family this Christmas season. Have a very Merry Christmas!