Though there is no known origin to why we associate peppermint with Christmas, there are many assumptions that are based in candy canes, and this tradition appears to hold true today.
Historically, mint was used by the Greeks and Romans as a status symbols, being used for its aromatic properties, believing that it helped ward off disease. Peppermint did not exist until such a time that watermint and spearmint naturally crossed. This hybrid was discovered in 1696 by John Ray, and therefore could not then have been a part of the modern tradition (1).
In the year 1750, the commercial production of peppermint began, producing on several acres of land, fully dedicated to commercial uses.
In the middle of the 1800s, peppermint came to America, being grown for production in essential oils, spreading until the modern production level of roughly 7.5 million pounds (2). But at what point did peppermint make its way into Christmas?
Suzetta Tucker from Christian Teacher wrote to the history of candy canes:
In early times, parents gave their fussy babies unflavored white sugar sticks to suck on (sort of an ancient pacifier). In the 1670’s the German choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral wanted something t0 keep the children quiet during the Christmas services. So he had those traditional flavorless white sugar sticks bent into a the shape of a shepherd’s staff and distributed to the youngsters before the ceremonies began.
Despite this story, there is likely an alternate history that coincides more fully with the mysterious origin of this candy, as there appears to be a strong bias in the claiming of candy cane history as Christian due to its significance to the modern religious traditions.
According to many sources, it wasn’t until circa 1900 that red stripes became a part of the candy cane that we know today. Religious sources cite this as a symbol for the blood of Christ, however, there seems to be a more likely explanation.
Using Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, Cartoonist Thomas Nast created the modern interpretation of Santa Claus to include the red suit in 1866, well before any record red striping on the now iconic candy (3). Though the true origin will ever remain a mystery, these are the likeliest explanations that we may ever have for the candy cane’s white and red color.
As candy canes grew more popular, they still had to be made by hand. Robert (Bob) McCormack, capitalizing on their popularity, started Bob’s Candies (4). In the 1950’s, he filed a patent with his brother-in-law, Gregory Harding Keller, creating a machine which could mechanize the candy making process (5).
If this topic interested you, please read this article, as it provides a more holistic view.
- They Cited: Dubin, Reese. Miracle Food Cures from the Bible p. 9
- Patent Number US2956520 A