A certain laundromat that I’ve frequented recently seems to be a popular hangout for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Every time I go there, they’ve left some of their pamphlets behind, featuring people on the cover who display what perfect skin and hair God will grant you if only you submit to His will, as relayed by them. I’ve learned to take this all in stride; maybe this literature actually is of benefit to some people. But on my last visit I discovered they’d really crossed the line by leaving behind those candy canes.
Yes, candy canes. About a dozen of them, each conveniently attached to a little tract explaining the TRUE meaning of Christmas. Like pedophiles, religious propagandists know that candy is an effective way to attract and manipulate children into something they’re not old enough to process. (Come to think of it, few adults are old enough to process religion. But that’s another story.) Accordingly, I threw them all into the trash where they belong. Sorry kiddies, you’ll have to get your sugar high elsewhere.
This was, alas, not the first time candy canes have been used as church bait. It’s been going on for centuries. Lately, there’s been a popular rumor circulating that these confections were created expressly for that purpose, and are infused with religious symbolism. Here’s how one website, often quoted in emails, states the case:
“A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane…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… 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 blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.”
Lovely story. There’s just one problem with it: it’s utter horseshit. Inspired, perhaps, by the pretzel, which has a much older, and possibly religious, origin – with the folded shape representing either hands in prayer or a disguised cross. The use of bread also probably stems from Christianity’s roots in harvest celebrations, and even possible connections to ancient cannibalistic cults . (“Eat this bread, it’s my body.”)
Candy canes themselves have existed, and have been used for Christmas decoration, for centuries. And they were plain white until about a hundred years ago, when somebody decided that they looked more festive with red stripes, and the innovation caught on. Originally, the canes were straight, but the crook was added later for reasons unknown, but there is no reason to believe it was intended to represent the letter “J”. Another legend (also unproven, but somewhat more plausible) relates that this alteration did indeed have a sort of religious significance: it supposedly was concocted by an official at Cologne Cathedral in the Seventeenth Century as a novelty to pique the interest of restless children in attendance. According to this legend, the shape represents a shepherd’s staff – not a letter of the alphabet.
But that’s quite likely a fabrication as well. It reeks of the same kind of symbolic retrofitting that Christianity has always been guilty of. Now, as always, Christians are trying to take credit for something they didn’t originate – including the United States of America. And, lest we forget, this holiday now commonly known as Christmas.