Candy Canes and Chocolate Coins - Sweet Treats at Christmas
Christmas isn’t Christmas without tasty treats. And what else signifies Yuletide quite like a little bag of gold coins tucked into the toe of a stocking or candy canes adorning the Christmas tree? But why candy canes and why chocolate coins?
Christmas Candy Canes
The tradition of candy canes at Christmas started some 350 years ago, but they weren’t always cane shaped. Sugar had quickly come to the attention of the masses and was incredibly popular especially for celebrations, and what better time to celebrate this sweet treat than at Christmas?
But originally candy canes weren’t cane shaped at all, they were simply straight white sticks of boiled sugar, and they most definitely weren’t peppermint flavoured.
It was only in the 1670s that the candy cane shape we know and love today came into fruition when, legend has it, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany took these boiled white sugar sticks and bent the tops, turning them into shepherd’s hooks for a nativity scene.
These little white sugary shepherd’s hooks were then given out to children who attended the ceremony as a Christmas gift.
The act quickly became tradition in church ceremonies, spreading outside of Cologne, around Germany, Europe and over to America.
The first recorded instance of candy canes at Christmas in America was in 1847 when August Imgard, a German-Swedish immigrant residing in Wooster, Ohio, decorated his Christmas tree with traditional paper chains and ornaments and candy canes.
Dawn of the red and white candy cane
Candy canes as we know them only came into being at the turn of the 19th century with the addition of red dye to make the familiar red and white striped candy cane. Alongside colour came flavour - peppermint flavour to be precise.
Why red dye was used isn’t clear, but it is thought it might be religious symbolism, with the red representing the blood of Christ, however it's more likely that it was a decorative feature based on available colours and it looked so pretty and appealing, it stuck.
Either way, the traditional candy cane is now synonymous with Christmas, and while they’re readily available in many different colours, flavours and sizes, the beloved red and white striped candy cane remains a firm favourite.
Christmas Chocolate Coins
No discerning Christmas stocking is complete without the addition of a bag of chocolate coins. The familiar outline of the coin bag exciting generation after generation of children (and adults), with the same question being asked year after year - how rich are you?
And unwrapping chocolate coins is an art form - you can’t go at it too ham-fisted or you risk ending up with precious chocolate under your fingernails, too slowly and you’ll find yourself in a sticky, chocolatey mess.
But why do we gift chocolate coins? And where does this seasonal festive tradition come from? They definitely don’t feature in the Christmas story…
Rumour has it that chocolate coins are tied up with the legend of St. Nicholas - the original Father Christmas. This mythical man first came to prominence in Turkey or Greece in the 5th century, and was probably based on a bishop who showed particular care and compassion for children.
Despite his good will and kind deeds, the bishop was shy and so would creep around his parishioners’ homes at Christmas, dropping coins on the doorstep, through the windows, down the chimneys or leaving them inside the stockings of little children that were hanging by the fire to warm.
And so supposedly began the tradition of gift giving at Christmas, most notably the giving of coins. But when did the coins become chocolate?
The advent of chocolate coins
Chocolate coins first come to light in the US around the 1920s when American chocolatiers wrapped their chocolate wares in silver foil paper, which Jewish migrants then gave out to their communities around Hannakuh. However chocolate coins appeared slightly earlier in Britain, with Victorian confectioners making them into the shape of a farthing coin. These farthing coins were used to decorate Christmas trees, their foil wrapping twinkling festively in the soft glow of candle light, and latterly given as gifts to children in lieu of real money.
Whether these backstories are true or not remains to be seen, but the point is, Christmas isn’t Christmas without the familiar red and white candy canes and a jangling bag of chocolate coins. So as traditions go, long may these last.