Posted in Kafevend Blog
Now that we're a couple of weeks into December, thoughts will probably be turning to decorations and the choice of Christmas tree- whether it be a silver bristled light show that would be more at home at a rock concert, or a pine scented needle dropper mounted in a cast iron carpet denter. Chances are of course that those blessed with children might have been pressed into decorating a little earlier than they had hoped. It is on their trees that we may well find the treats that we are going to talk about today: chocolate coins and candy canes.
There are a couple of explanations as to why we enjoy handing out chocolate coins. The first and perhaps more well known explanation- here in Britain at least- concerns St. Nicholas. Also known as Nikolaos of Myra, Saint Nicholas was a Greek who lived during the 4th century C.E. Alongside his many miracles, he was well known for secretly handing out gifts. The most famous of these is his gift to the three daughters of a poor man. At night, he went to the house and dropped three bags of coins in through an open window so that they had enough for a dowry and could get married. Saint Nicholas of course went on to assume the mantle of figures such as Sinterklaas and Santa Claus during many winter festivals.
One other explanation for chocolate coins has its origins in the Jewish festival of Hannukah. Around the 17th and 18th centuries, it was traditional for Jewish parents to give money to their children to pass on to their teachers as a way of thanks. In the same vein as the early Christmas tree, the children soon started demanding money for themselves. This turned into the tradition of Hannukah gelt, a monetary gift given to children during Hannukah. The idea of placating children with chocolate coins instead of the real deal came in the early 20th century, when American chocolatiers started creating foil wrapped chocolate coins grouped together in a mesh bag- a recipe that hasn't really changed since!
The candy cane also has a few religious stories that attempt to explain its origin, one placing its appearance back in 1670, but with no evidence to support them they are perhaps better considered myths. Instead, the earliest documented cases of candy canes appear in 1844, with images of the recognisable red and white cane appearing, like chocolate coins, at the beginning of the 20th century.
Interestingly however, candy canes do have a religious, if slightly tangential, connection. During the mid 20th century, one of their biggest producers was Bob's Candies, headed up by Bob McCormack. Originally, the bend in the cane had to be created by hand as it came off the assembly line and as many as one in five would break whilst it was being done. Bob's brother in law, Gregory Harding Keller came to the rescue though. During his summer visits home whilst studying in Rome at a theological college, Keller worked at the factory. He invented a machine that would take the straight sticks of candy and create the bend, handily reducing the amount of labour required and the breakage. Keller went on to become a priest, and patented his machine in 1957.
Have fun decorating your tree!