The Deep – and Not Dark – Backstory of Holiday Candy

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One of the most beloved – and inexpensive – gifts during the holidays is Christmas candy. So, it’s ironic that the candy has little to do with Christmas, the birth of Jesus, or even the wintry season. The candy cane, for example, originated in Germany somewhere in the 1600s. Rumors abound as to its origin – some say a choirmaster gave it to the choirboys to quiet them during the services. Whatever the case may be, they were hand-pulled, all white, and yes, hung from evergreen trees…but not for Christmas.

As for the most gorgeous candy (in my opinion) – the colorful and festive art candy: that evolved at English resorts in the 1800s. Resort owners put images and the name of the resort in the center…and still do today. Tourists buy the sweets as a tasteful reminder of the best that summer offers.

The origin of another holiday standard, the ribbon candy, is unclear. Confectioners of the 1700s did make ribbon candy, crimping the pieces with their thumbs…a slow and arduous process. By the 1800s, when industry was taking hold, small crimping machines sped things up. One worker made the candy while another fed the stands into the hand-turned machine. Dan Tuck, of Tucks candy in Rockport Massachusetts, still uses this process with impressive results. Still, the handmade candy couldn’t keep up with demand. So, in the 1940s, Sevigny Candy made a machine which did the work, making the Christmas ribbon available far and wide.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Christmas candy is how it ended up in grandmothers’ candy bowls. These grandmothers – and their grandmothers – grew up during the Depression and world wars when sugar shortages were an unfortunate fact of life. Once sugar was available again, sweets – especially candy – became a symbol of affluence, well-being, and love, filled to the brim in special bowls that glittered each winter with holiday joy.

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