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The candy cane is the definitive candy symbol of Christmas. Legend has it that the choirmaster of Cologne Cathedral invented the first candy cane in 1670. He supposedly handed them out to his choir boys to keep them quiet during the long Christmas rites. In honor of the occasion, he made them in the shape of a shepard's crook (the image is of Jesus as the Shepard and humanity as lost sheep). The choirmaster dyed part of the canes red for the blood of Christ; he left the rest of the canes white to symbolize purity and redemption.

Bob McCormack, from Albany, Georgia, started marketing candy canes on a local scale in the early 1920s. Making the candy by hand is such a difficult process that he was only able to make enough to sell to the people in his town. It wasn't until the 19502 the McCormack's brother-in-law, the Catholic priest Gregory Keller, invented a machine to mass produce candy canes. The two of them started Bob's Candies, which is still the world's largest producer of candy canes to this day.

I went to a Christmas party with my wife the other night, and I had to listen to an older lady (yes, even older than me) tell about the story of the candy cane. She was obviously a true believer, and told the story with a faraway gleam in her eye that gave me the willies. Don't get me wrong; I think it's great that folks have religion, if that's what they need. But I do tend to get antsy when they want to share it with me. Especially when it's in a group setting.

When she was through, a couple that I know better than anyone else in the group walked up and asked what was going on. So I shared the story of the candy cane with them. My version was a bit different than the first one, and I could tell it bothered the older lady quite a bit to hear my translation.

Here was her story:

A candy maker invented candy canes as a witness to Jesus Christ. He used hard candy to represent the solid rock of faith (Rock of Ages) and he used white to represent the purity of Christ. He shaped in the form of a "J" to represent Jesus' name, or a shepherd's staff if turned the other way. The single red stripe represents the blood of Christ as he died on the cross. The three smaller red stripes represent the stripes Jesus received from the lashes of the Roman soldiers. They could also represent faith, hope and charity. The flavor of peppermint is similar to hyssop. Hyssop was used in the Old Testament for purification and sacrifice. And, of course, Jesus is the Pure Lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of the world.

Here was my translation for my friends:

Some dumbass candy maker in San Francisco was secretly in love with Julio Iglesias. He invented the candy cane on September 23, 1973, in honor of Julio's 30th birthday. The cane is made out of hard candy, because every time the candy maker thought of Julio, he got excited. The cane is white which represents the Beatles' White Album. This was the masterpiece which drove Julio almost insane with jealousy when it was released in 1968. The single, large red stripe represents the blood that Julio shed when he had an automobile accident in the mid 1960's. Up until that time, Julio had planned to be a lawyer. He was also a goalkeeper for the football (soccer) team in Madrid. Had it not been for that automobile accident which ended his career as an athlete, Julio would have never started playing guitar and writing songs. The crook in the candy cane represents crooked lawyers; one of which Julio never became. And the "J" is, of course, for "Julio." And what about the three small red stripes? Well, you remember that song he did with Willie Nelson, "To All the Girls I've Loved Before"? Unfortunately, the three red stripes represent the number of girls Julio has actually had sex with. And one of those was a hooker.

My story at the party was not quite as replete with details, but the basics were there.

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