Cookies are traditionally left for Santa and the Christmas tree looks incomplete without candy canes; both have interesting origins. Cookies were a part of festive holiday rituals even before Christmas celebrations became popular. It is said that the recipes and ingredients (cinnamon, black pepper, almonds, ginger and dry fruits) came to Europe via the spice route from Asia during the middle ages.
Around 1500, Christmas cookies were common all over Europe. Papparkakor: a spicy ginger and black pepper delight, and Krumkaka: a thin, lemon and cardamom scented wafer were popular. However, the popularity of the cookie really soared when the spices of the East became less expensive, and then in the 1930s when tin cookie cutters became less expensive and accessible! Cookies are now an integral part of the Christmas platter.
Candy canes, popular as tasty treats and decorations on the tree, have an interesting history. When Europeans started using Christmas trees, straight, white candy sticks were part of the decorations. It is believed that in the 17th century, the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral (Germany) suggested white sticks of candy in the shape of shepherds’ crooks. These were given to children during enactment of the nativity scene to keep them quiet! The shape symbolized Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Another interpretation of the candy cane is that the long hook is shaped like “J” for Jesus; the color white symbolizes his purity, while red stripes represent the blood He shed. Another interpretation is that the three red stripes remind us of the Holy Trinity.
In 1847, Imgard, a German immigrant decorated a Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio with the candy cane. After 50 years, McCormack made candy canes for his family and friends. His brother in law, Keller, a Catholic priest invented a machine to produce candy canes, thus popularizing it.
Striped candy canes are used to decorate the Christmas tree and are tasty gifts for the stocking, but they have other uses too. A interesting study has shown that traditional candy canes are useful in treating digestive disorders and fighting germs, and are effective even against irritable bowel syndrome. The health benefits of candy canes are due to the presence of peppermint oil, since the anti-microbial effects of the mint family have been proved. Therefore, a candy cane is not just a pretty decoration, but also a tasty means of warding off germs in the holiday season.