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History of Candy Canes, Gingerbread and Christmas Cards

Published by Charis Willaimson

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While most of us will have sent Christmas cards and eaten Christmas treats each year from a young age, many will not know the reasons behind these popular traditions. In order to help children understand the festive season, learn where three Christmas traditions originated from.

History of Candy Canes – ‘Christmas Pacifiers’

Christmas candy canes were not always red and white striped, they were originally plain white sticks which were traditionally utilised as a form of Christmas tree decoration in Germany. In European Christmas, Steves (2005) identifies that it was a choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral who bent the candy stick to represent a shepherd’s crook, back in 1670. Irritated by noisy children causing distraction during the service, the choir master passed the candy canes out to quiet them down.

Religious Symbolism of Christmas Candy Canes

The Christmas candy cane became popular in the US as a result of German immigrants and red stripes were added in the 1920s. In Weird Christmas, Green (2005) highlights how religious symbolism relates to Christmas candy canes, to include the following:


  • white colour – suggests Virgin Birth and sinless nature of Jesus
  • hardness of candy – represents Jesus as rock of refuge
  • J-shape – signifies Jesus and staff of “Good Shepherd.”
  • three thin red stripes – represents Trinity or stripes Jesus received
  • large red stripe – symbol of blood shed on the cross
  • peppermint flavour – like hyssop, associated with purification, sacrifice

Origin of Christmas Gingerbread Tradition

It is thought that ginger was first brought to Europe from the Middle East by returning eleventh century Crusaders. Steves (2005) suggests that Catholic monks made gingerbread a popular treat, making theme cakes for various festivals and saints’ days. As with candy canes, it was also in Germany, at their still famous Christmas markets, where ginger bread became a major attraction for visitors. According to Green (2005), the Nuremberg Christmas market became known as the “gingerbread capital of the world,” with the same recipe still used today.

Why do People Write Christmas Cards?

Love them or hate them, Christmas cards are written religiously year after year by countless numbers of people. However, what many do not know is the reason behind this very popular Christmas tradition. Apparently, Hallmark have much to thank Sir Henry Cole for – he hired artist John Horsley to design the first Christmas card back in 1843. During the early 1850s, the first commercial Christmas card was printed. Today, Hallmark recognise Christmas to be the most profitable holiday for selling card, with over two billion cards typically exchanged during the festive season.

As highlighted above, Christmas traditions are a major part of the holiday season, with sending cards, candy canes and gingerbread all very popular. In addition to teaching children about the true meaning of Christmas, it is useful to be able to explain the reasons behind many traditions.

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