It’s that time of year again where Fundagelicals announce that there is a war on Christmas, and someone is going to forward an email or do a Facebook post about the true spiritual meaning of the candy cane.
About fifteen years ago, I accidentally ruined a person’s ministry. I didn’t mean to do it, but I, unfortunately, I told the truth, and that ruined this woman’s little Christmas time ministry. Let me explain, every year, on the Sunday before Christmas; she would stand at the entrance to the church and hand out candy canes that had been taped to a piece of paper, upside down to make a letter J, that had the “candy maker’s witness”story printed on it. This is what the paper said,
A candymaker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols from the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.
He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the Church, and firmness of the promises of God.
The candymaker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the “Good Shepherd” with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray.
Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the bloodshed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.
Unfortunately, the candy became known as a Candy Cane — a meaningless decoration seen at Christmas time. But the meaning is still there for those who “have eyes to see and ears to hear.” Every time you see a Candy Cane, remember the Wonder of Jesus and His Great Love that came down at Christmas, and that His Love remains the ultimate and dominant force in the universe today.
She handed one to me, and I looked at her and explained that the story wasn’t true that it was just a myth. Needless to say, she was upset with me. I had ruined her little ministry. I ruined it with the truth, but I did ruin it. The next year she was back to passing out the same candy canes attached to the same paper with the same false story. When I entered the church, she told me that even if the story wasn’t true, she was going to continue giving out the papers anyway. God Bless alternate facts, I guess.
The reality is that we don’t know the origins of the candy cane. Recipes for peppermint candy sticks appeared sometime around the seventeenth century. Later they were formed into solid white canes. Christmas cards from before the 1900s show solid white candy canes. It wasn’t until the 1900s that red stripes were added. Were candy canes supposed to look like shepherd’s crooks, or were they simply bent to make them easier to hang on trees? No one knows. Why red stripes? How about it looks pretty? The whole candy maker’s witness is just some Christian glurge created to spiritualize another familiar symbol.
Christianity has a long history of appropriating symbols, holidays, and songs and then turning them Christian. We borrowed the fish symbol; we took over the date for Christmas, and we turned a middle eastern man into white patriarch. Christians have a long history of re-purposing just about anything that is in popular use.
However, the whole candy maker’s witness story is a fabrication and falsehood. I’ve heard my Fundagelical former pastors get upset about how the world has fabricated Santa Clause to lie to children. One of my pastors was vehemently opposed to Santa because, as he put it, “If parents lie about Santa, what’s to stop children from thinking they lied about Jesus too?”
I don’t go that far, I think that if you want to use a candy cane as a mnemonic device for a spiritual lesson, go ahead, just don’t fabricate stories and try to pass it off as fact. I think what really bothers me about this little piece of doggerel is that ending. I quote, “Unfortunately, the candy became known as a Candy Cane — a meaningless decoration seen at Christmas time. But the meaning is still there for those who ‘have eyes to see and ears to hear.’” Not only does it set up a false divide between super Christian spiritual elites and us lesser apostates, but it also has the whole “war on Christmas” thing thrown in. I’m sorry Fundagelicals, the world didn’t suppress, hide or even forget the religious meaning of the candy cane, Christians just made it up and turned a profit selling books, bookmarks, and other “candy maker’s witness” merchandise.
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