Monday, December 25, 2006

Jesus Canes

While listening to This American Life on NPR recently, I was reminded of a Christmas activity that used to take place in my church sunday school. The teacher would pass out candy canes to all the children. Then, in dramatic fashion, she would hold up the candy can and say something like, "What are candy canes for?" Being children, our answers were along the lines of, "I like to eat them!" or"You can hang them on a Christmas tree." The teacher nodded, "Sure, all those things are true, but candy canes also remind us of the real meaning of Christmas." She turned the candy cane upside down, showing us that the candy cane made a "J," which she said stood for Jesus. But it didn't stop there. "What do the white stripes stand for?" she asked. Not used to breaking down the religious symbolism of candy, one of my classmates blurted, "The white stripes are the mint part!" Clearly, she was not getting through to us. "No," she said, "the white stripes stand for Jesus purity, for the fact that he never sinned. What about the red stripes, what do they stand for?" We were dumbfounded. The obvious answer would be that the red stood for Santa Claus, but it seemed unlikely that she was looking for the obvious answer. Finally, a little girl said, "I think the red part is like the juice we use in communion." The teacher realized that was as close as any of us was going to get to the correct answer. "Sure, the red stripes represent Jesus blood which he shed for our sins when he died on the cross," recited the teacher. "So whenever you eat a candy cane remember Jesus blood that washes your sin away. You may now open your candy canes." Picturing that our candy canes were not pretty peppermint sticks as we had always thought but were in fact bloody Jesus canes tempered our enthusiasm for devouring them. No one opened their candy cane. It was a Christmas miracle, of sorts. Our teacher had single-handedly turned a group of 7 year olds off to the idea of free candy.