The candy cane’s origins appear to be shrouded in mystery. But one thing seems clear, according to the Smithsonian: They don’t have a factual Christian tale behind them, although many stories claim otherwise. The J-shape, after all, seems like it could stand for Jesus, and the white stripes for his virgin birth and sinless nature, and the red stripes for his blood.
Instead, it’s more likely that candy canes evolved from hard sugar sticks, a popular treat in Europe in the 17th century. At that time, it also became trendy for Germans to decorate their Christmas trees with cookies, fruits and candies, and this is when candy canes seem to have gotten their crook.
A Catholic priest did, however, play some part in the industrial development of candy canes. As the brother-in-law of an American factory owner who started making candy canes in the early 20th century, Father Gregory Keller developed a machine to automatically bend the cane while it was still warm, to prevent so many of them from breaking in the bending process.