Just when and how candy canes got their start is a bit more uncertain than their popularity today: 1.76 billion candy canes are produced worldwide each year.
According to Carly Schildhaus of the National Confectioners Association, “legend has it that the candy cane dates back to 1670, when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the “Living Creche” (nativity scene) ceremony. In honor of the occasion, he bent the candies into shepherds’ crooks.”
Susan Benjamin, founder of True Treats Historic Candy, truetreatscandy.com, and author of Sweet as Sin: The Unwrapped Story of How Candy Became America’s Pleasure, agrees the candy cane most likely took shape in 17th century Europe when pulled sugars, the parent to today’s sugar sticks, were all the rage.
The first documented use of candy canes in the U.S. dates back to 1847, when German-Swedish immigrant August Imgard decorated a blue spruce tree with candy canes and paper ornaments, according to the National Confectioners Association, a group that advocates for the confectionery industry. Candy canes likely spread during that time as a popular tree ornament, according to Susan Benjamin, a writer and historian of sugar, sweets and candy.
“People wanted to put the candy canes on the tree as a way to decorate it, and the hook was really just added as a way to hold it,” Benjamin told the Charleston Gazette-Mail in 2015. “So, it morphed out of the candy stick and into the candy cane.”
The red and white stripes and minty flavor did not take hold as a massively popular treat until the 1950s, when the production of candy canes became automated. Prior to that point, local candy makers would laboriously twist the peppermint candy into edible sweets.