Friday, December 16, 2011

The Candy Cane is a Lie

Posted by Jack

A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas candy cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with 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, and firmness of the Promises of God.

The candy maker made the candy in the form of a "J" to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the "Good Shepherd" with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray.

Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the bloodshed by Christ on the cross so that we could the promise of Eternal Life.

Unfortunately, the candy became known as a candy cane-a meaningless decoration seen at Christmas time. But the meaning is still there for those who "have eyes to see and ears to hear."

Every year, this amazing and heart-warming story finds its way into my email inbox. This year, I received a candy cane from my employer with this story attached, and I was also given a storybook version of the legend to read to the children this holiday season. There is no question that the story is touching. But there is one little detail that persists in bothering me…

The story is complete and utter bulls***.

It turns out, candy canes existed long before Indiana did, and there is little in this story that rings true. Fact-checking gurus at cried foul on the crooked tale years ago, and other verifiable histories exist. The internet abounds with various contradictory accounts, but regardless of the true history of the candy cane, it is clear that the treat has little or nothing to do with Jesus.

Of course, charming folklore bears no threat. But it should be noted that many people in leadership (knowingly or unknowingly) perpetuate this story every year in response to questions of the candy’s origin.

(Psst. Did you know that PEZ dispensers were created by a Sunday School teacher in Pennsylvania who wanted to teach his children about sanctification? Spread the word.)

I am all for reclaiming cultural practices and re-clothing them with new meaning and Kingdom values. If something can be redeemed, or reworked, or celebrated in light of the reality of our King, then by all means, let’s do it! If someone wants to live old-world practices with new-Kingdom understanding, I find nothing wrong with that. If the candy cane reminds you of all those doctrinal truths, great!

But is it necessary to rewrite history? Must we create false origin stories to justify our favorite cultural practices? Should we take something completely secular, or neutral, and make it seem as if it has been “Christian” all along?

(Maybe we should go back and photoshop Jesus into the background of all those Coca-Cola Santa advertisements…)

I got a similar vibe a few years ago when I was attending a church Christmas pageant for children. Santa made an appearance in the program. After passing out gifts to the children (including a card that spins a bogus candy cane yarn), Santa turned and knelt before a cross. It was then explained to the children that Santa Claus is a servant of Jesus and that the jolly old fat man always pauses to remember the true meaning of the Christmas. What the Fa-la-la-la-la is that?

It seems efforts like these are an attempt to make our own Christmas traditions more acceptable. Some people seem to think there is no place for certain cultural practices unless they are somehow Jesus-related. So, these people take on the cheery chore of squeezing Biblical concepts into every nook and cranny.

This type of thinking looks something like this: If we can make the Christmas tree about Jesus, it is okay to have one. If we can make the gift exchange about Jesus, it is okay to have one.

(“No, children. This is not a gingerbread man. It’s a ginger-angel! Now go hang your Jesus-footies by the fireplace and get to sleep!”)

Listen, there is no danger of the Gospel losing its power. Even if the population at large is consumed with consumption, we do not need to sneak Jesus into their stories in hopes of winning them over. Changing world traditions to incorporate our beliefs may make us feel better, but it is not necessary.

We are not needed to “guard” Christmas in the public square. It is not our job to infiltrate holiday traditions and inject Scripture. We are not soldiers locked in battle to protect Christmas. Instead, let us fascinate others into a relationship with the newborn King.

There is no need to create a new Christmas mythology. And we certainly don’t need to change existing Yuletide traditions to reflect a Savior they have nothing to do with.

This holiday season, break the influence of the candy cane.

  • Fear not! The meaning of this season is lost ONLY if the people of God get distracted and become contaminated by the shallowness of worldly practices.

  • Good tidings! Share the true Christmas story. Do not invent a new one.
  • Great joy! Allow Jesus to fill your life; do not cram your life full of Jesus by stuffing Him into places He doesn’t belong.

As an alternative to unnecessary shopping, consider reading this post and giving the gift of clean water to families in Haiti. Jeff Cook has drawn our attention to a beautiful group of Jesus followers who are drilling wells in areas that need them most. Click here to sacrifice unnecessary stocking stuffers on behalf of the poor and needy.

Also, be sure to visit the Advent Conspiracy to learn more from some very creative friends.

Merry Christmas.


tim casper said...

I love you message! And I am so glad that you have a green background, green the color of spring and new growth & life. It reminds me of the new fresh life in Jesus! He says with his tongue most firmly embedded in his cheek ;-)

Russ said...

I've been reading your recent Christmas stories and it brings me hope! Thanks!