December 23, 2010

Candy confusion

I once received an e-mail message that went something like this:
Photo by Gary Scott |
“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.
“ … 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 …
“The candymaker made the candy in the form of a ‘J’ to represent the precious name of Jesus … it could also represent the staff of the ‘Good Shepherd’ …
“The candymaker stained it with red stripes … three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received … the large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross.
“Unfortunately, the candy became known as a candy cane — a meaningless decoration … but the meaning is still there for those who ‘have eyes to see and ears to hear.’ ”

There are even several children’s books that tell something like this story, calling it the “true” origin of the candy cane. The problem is, the “true” story changes with each retelling.

In some versions, the candy cane is said to have been a secret sign among persecuted Christians — although the persecution of Christians in Europe ended long before the invention of stick candy.

Straight white candy sticks have been around for centuries. According to the National Confectioners Association, the first cane-shaped candies in America appeared in Ohio, where, in 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard decorated his tree with them. The shape is meant to evoke not the letter J, but the shepherd's crook -- still religiously symbolic, if you think about it. Besides, you can hang a crook on a branch. Doesn't work so well in the "J" orientation.

The truth may seem boring in comparison to a fanciful story. Gracious, I'm in the business of telling fanciful stories. But we must be clear when we are using fairy tales to share our witness, and not pretend that fables are fact.

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