Chances are, this Christmas season, you'll be digging into at least one candy cane as part of the festivities. Well the next time you do, consider the origin of this treat and know that you can thank a Catholic priest for his important role in how candy canes are produced today.
Legend has it that the candy cane was first introduced by a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral around the time of about 1670 when a less than patient choral leader was getting frustrated by the distracted children, who had trouble sitting through the lengthy church services. To help keep them at bay during nativity celebrations, candy canes were distributed to the kids -at the time they were all white and simple candy was bent to resemble a shepherds' staff.
Fast forward to the mid 1800's when a German immigrant tothe USA started to decorate his Christmas trees using candy canes. Somewhere around the early 1900's the stripes were introduced to the confection. Now depending on who you ask, some feel that all along there was a Christian connection to the treats with the shepherds' staff used as a symbol that we still see today (bishop's crozier) and the red stripes representing Christ's blood and purity, the stiff candy representing the rock of the church and even the peppermint flavour resembling hyssop, often referenced in the Old Testament. Truth be told, these connections can't be traced to any one group in particular and may just be a pleasant interpretation that some have come up with over time.
That said, we can confirm the Catholic connection to the massproduction of candy canes that began, on a larger scale somewhere between 1930 and 1940. Bob McCormack, owner of Bobs Candies, was looking for a way to produce the Christmas treat without complications. Having introduced cellophane wrap to keep the candy canes fresh, the family business continued to look for new ways to innovate.
Up until 1950, 22% of the candy canes produced were broken as they were produced and had to be discarded. Bob asked his brother in law, Catholic priest and part-time inventor, Father Harding Keller to help invent a machine that wouldn't break the treats. Within six months, Fr. Harding had created the "Keller Machine", a device that twisted the soft candy into spiral striping and then cut the canes. Prior to the invention, most of the candy was made by hand and those that were made in machines were often the wrong size or broken.
By 1956, Bobs Candies was the world's largest peppermint candy cane producer and the invention created by a Catholic priest as a favour to his brother in law launched the family business into a multi-million dollar success. By the late 1950's the company was producing half a million candy canes every day.
So the next time you enjoy a candy cane, you can thank a Catholic priest for making the process less sticky and more enjoyable. Thanks Fr. Keller, for your divine intervention in helping pave the way for a Christmas treat that will be enjoyed by millions for years to come! And you thought your local pastor was only a sacramental specialist...