The Candy Cane Crux

Part 4 in my Series on Giving and Forgiving

You can also read Part 1: Deck the Halls with PsychoAnal Gifts  Part 2: The Spirit of Giving and Forgiving  and Part 3: Balancing the Four Rooms.

Giving and Forgiving via Wikipedia

Giving and Forgiving via Wikipedia



My two oldest sons and I were getting into mischief downtown this past weekend. They were running around the green space in front of the performing arts centre and enjoying the crisp December weather.

A horse and large carriage comes along the main street, complete with jingling harness and a-caroling people. My kids run up to see it just as I notice the sign on the carriage’s side for a certain religious group that promotes intolerance and hatred. While I attempt to diplomatically explain to Nat, the 5yo, who the people are as he is sounding out the words on the sign, I don’t notice the carriage is flanked by walking people carrying baskets.

One of the people comes up to us brandishing candy canes as big as my children’s’ heads, wrapped in bags that contain shiny, colorful religious pamphlets. After wishing us a firm, “Merry Christmas” in reply to my own “Happy Holidays” response to his greeting, he extends the sweet to Gan, the 3yo, then says warningly, “Only if your mom says it’s okay.”

I’m uncomfortable with this entire situation, yet also slightly glad for the candy distraction from Nat’s curiosity about who they are. I say yes, deciding that I will handle the candy “situation” (yes, I coined it so in my mind) later.

English: A Candy cane, against the background ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Forgiving Crux

I felt like the entire situation was a set up for this group to spread their message of intolerance. It was an unwelcome intrusion into my enjoyable time with my children and felt against the spirit of the holidays.

I understand their point of view that they are spreading the word of love and acceptance into their special group of happiness. I don’t have an issue with this type of spreading the love as long as it’s unconditional. But, I mind when it is used to exclude, dehumanize or pass judgment.

Acceptance Exceptance.

The exclusions and requirements to be accepted into the group are where the message leaves me chilled. And my feeling process in those moments was like this:

Using Christmas icons and candy feels like a proverbial trap inside a gingerbread house to me. It opens the door a crack to lure someone into a gradual decent of excluding those who are different. This particular group is highly vocal about who they consider immoral. They have no problem bashing away the humanity of those who disagree with their views. It’s bullying and it’s hate-speech. And it defiles those who practice the same religion in an accepting way.

I had to get to a place of forgiveness about this situation. I was angry about the outward show of love hiding a cold hate. I was angry about the candy being proffered to my kids in this passive aggressive way that made me look like the bad guy if I said no. I was upset that I was going to have to figure out a way to get rid of the religious pamphlets without reading them with my kids.

I was frustrated that our carefree time together was now poised on the tip of this candy cane.

I decided that I didn’t have to like any of this. I didn’t have to stay silent about what I didn’t like either. I told the candy cane person, politely, that we would accept the candy canes, but give back their literature. He handed over the candy and left in a huff before I could return the papers to him, with another firm over his shoulder, “Merry Christmas. I will put you in my prayers.”

I took the canes out of the bags and told my kids we could mail the colorful holiday papers to the candy cane people for the holidays. They were satisfied enough with this and distracted by the incoming sugar that I didn’t have to discuss it further much to my relief. But, I expect that Nat will remember to bring it up in the future.

Then, I handed the candy canes without the papers back to the kids. That’s when I started laying down the rules.

A candy cane hanging on a Christmas tree

The Giving Crux

I don’t think the canes had even left my hands before I said they needed to keep them wrapped until it was time to eat them. And they couldn’t eat them until after we had finished dinner at the restaurant we were going to after running around the greenspace.

This was their cue to begin negotiating. I listened calmly and empathized as we walked to the restaurant. I knew that acting anything but unflappably patient would not end the negotiations, but would move them to the level of whining and then possibly tantruming.

Besides, they’re kids holding candy. It’s sweet, delicious treasure in their hands. Of course, they want to try to get it. That’s natural. My thwarting them wasn’t going to magically negate these feelings. If I were holding a candy cane as big as my head and someone told me to wait, I’d be annoyed, too.

We got to the restaurant, ordered our food, and I settled in for the next round of negotiations. I checked in with myself and noticed I had a similar kind of anxiety as I had while next to the horse and carriage. I was feeling resigned and stuck. Then, I checked in with my kids. They were holding candy given to them and acting quite calm about it, actually.

Wait…candy that was given to them.

This wasn’t my candy. This was their candy. And I was holding parental power over them, as if I was the owner of the candy. No wonder this felt wrong.

So, I said with honesty, “I am sorry. I was acting unfairly. Those are your candy canes, not mine. It’s your decision when and how much of them to eat.”

Nat, who is the kid that will say, “I’m not hungry for dinner. Can I just eat broccoli?” wanted to save his candy cane for dessert. Gan, who is the kid that won’t speak for stuffing treats in his mouth, decided to unwrap his candy cane and eat some of it before dinner and some after.

The world didn’t come to a screeching halt; my kids didn’t become obsessed with candy; they don’t suddenly expected to get candy, candy, candy all the time; their morals and teeth haven’t become rotten.

A squat candy snowman outside a gingerbread house.

Image via Wikipedia

Actually, I think this has created a healthier, more empowering relationship with candy for them. Like most kids, they adore candy, but since they felt respected and unlimited, I think the power around obtaining it is diffused-at least for a little while-this is candy, after all. I’m not expecting them to suddenly become abstemious or anything.

I believe in natural consequences. For example, if it’s cold outside, but the kids want to wear shorts, they’ll feel cold and change into something warmer or not. I don’t argue with them or try to make them do things.

Most importantly, I feel as a parent, it is my job to observe, support and facilitate them as they learn to navigate life. We discuss the ramifications of decisions. I try to explain things in ways they will understand as often and as patiently as needed. So, I will probably bring warm clothes with me to produce if asked, out of courtesy and support.

I try to practice natural consequences. I try not to hover or insert my judgments. And I’m constantly finding new ways that I have to think or act differently to be the parent they deserve. I have opinions on things and will share them, hoping I do my best to give space for other opinions.

We have spoken about the types of foods that help you grow and foods that don’t. And we have spoken about people who are mean and people that are loving. I am sure that both of these will be conversations we will have for many years.

Ultimately, I hope to model the skills for tolerance, conscious choices, critical thinking, and forgiving on their own terms. If nothing else, they can see what an imperfect person looks like as they strive toward unconditional giving and forgiving.

How do you handle candy in your family? Is giving candy in a separate category from giving gifts? Why or why not?

Remember, anonymous comments are always welcome. I’d love to hear from you.


Questions from Part 1: Have you ever been charged for receiving a gift? Do you have expectations when you give to someone else?

Questions from Part 2: Do you feel that giving and receiving freely is important or is a gift a gift? What do you think about the concept that giving objects are a representation of the feelings inside?

Questions from Part 3: Do you visit the four rooms of your house? Are there any areas you need to offer the key of self-forgiveness before you unlock them?

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8 thoughts on “The Candy Cane Crux

  1. Pingback: The Mindful Holiday Giving Guide | TouchstoneZ

  2. My kids don’t get offered candy very often (we must not be in the right place at the right time), but when they do, my daughter’s reaction is fairly predictable: if it’s not chocolate, she says, “No, thank you.”

    I don’t recall being offered candy accompanied by religious propaganda. I don’t think it’s dishonest to take it and not read the literature. I doubt that most of the people handing out candy like that really think that everyone’s going to read it anyway. They’re motivated by the, “If we can reach one person…” thing (or so I gather). I actually enjoy reading the religious literature I get (even when it’s not accompanied by candy). There’s usually some interesting stuff there, and I enjoy talking about different religions with my kids (or at least with the older one…the little guy could care less). It’s been an unavoidable conversation anyway given the state we’d called home until a few months ago as well as the religious beliefs held by many members of our family (who are otherwise loving and generous people).

    There are several religious groups whose politics I find distasteful at best, but I’ve known so many individuals in different groups and—I don’t know, I guess I just see the members of these religions as individuals more than as representatives of their faith, if that makes any sense. They’re members of their faith but that’s not the only facet of who they are. Even those people I disagree with are generally motivated by a desire to make the world a better place. They’re just coming at it from a different angle. They’ve found something that fulfills them and gives their lives meaning, and they’re trying to share that with the rest of us. Which, in a certain light, is actually quite loving. I can respect that even as I disagree with (and at times actively fight against) the political manifestation of those values and the fear that exists on the shadow side of their loving intention.

    I persist in believing that we’re all pretty much the same, we all deserve compassion, and we all deserve to be heard. In your situation, you were giving yourself compassion and your boys compassion, and even giving compassion to the literature-and-candy givers by being honest about your intentions. Sounds like a pretty good outcome, if you ask me (and as if I’m qualified to judge). AND you shared it with the rest of us so we could think about it, too!

    Rambling comment, but I hope it’s at least slightly coherent.

  3. We haven’t been in that situation, and I likely would have accepted both literature and candy, telling the kids we would discuss both later. Like a previous poster said, I would have explained to the goblins what my objections to the group were, but I would have taken the literature to use to cite my sources. I wouldn’t have said anything other than “Thank you” to the group member who’d given it to us, because confrontation rarely leads to a positive outcome. I can effect greater good by allowing everyone to have a pleasant experience and discussing it my kids later if I feel that would be beneficial.

    Regarding the candy: we have a rule regarding sweets that dictates that they are only consumed after meals, and while the goblins would certainly have asked if they could have it right away, they would have expected and accepted an answer in the negative. If were just a little piece, we’d probably let them have it anyway, but if it were a big thing we’d have them wait. We do avoid food dye, though, so in the case of candy canes we likely would have made an exchange with the goblins instead. Actually, we had that exact experience last night: B’s mother bought the goblins milk chocolate Santas for Christmas, but they’ve developed an intolerance of lactose and can’t eat milk chocolate, so she very gracefully exchanged them for lollipops larger than their heads, which are full of dye. We didn’t want to put her through the trouble of exchanging again, so we coached the goblins to just thank her and be pleased, but that they’d trade the lollipops for a box each of the Trader Joe’s Sweet Sticks (same candy concept, though stick-less, and a comparable quantity, but with natural food colors) when we got home. I generally wouldn’t give them anywhere near such a large amount of sugar in one go, but between the avoidance of dye, grains, and lactose they really navigate a tough road for kids (and do so with such acceptance and , and I feel that it’s essential to their trust in my decisions regarding their health that I “give in” when I can, and that they know I’m doing it. It’s a show of good faith, I guess (or I hope).

    I can relate to your discomfort with inventing rules for gifts, and it’s something we struggle with, too. I don’t have any simple answers, except that whenever we’re struggling with something we always explain our thought processes to the goblins and our reasons for feeling conflicted, and thus far we can then arrive at a peaceable and workable conclusion from there.

    • Thank you for your insightful reply, Laura-KPA. I think part of it is diffusing the emotional reactions for myself, just as I would if it were an allergy issue. That’s a good point. This issue is part of the reason I haven’t given ds1 his leapfrog, as I think we talked about irl, because if it’s a gift, its use would be too qualified to be considered “his.”

      There were other things happening as well that I didn’t go into in this post that complicated things a bit (and I won’t share them), but the central message is here, which is why I appreciate this comment discussion.

      My kids and I have discussed prior to this, and since, intolerance and ownership. Honestly, I may not have confronted this person if he hadn’t been contemptuously correcting me in greeting him. I got the feeling he was deliberately presenting the candy the way he did because I said, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I think he felt I was challenging him by saying “Happy Holidays,” which I wasn’t. I try to be respectful even when it’s not reciprocated. In this case, I felt his actions warranted my returning the papers to him politely. And I did mail them to the address on the papers with a short, polite note.

      I will not silently accept when a group is spreading hate. It feels like tacit approval. Perhaps I should have declined the candy canes and I may do so in the future, depending on the situation.

  4. I view the gift of candy and any other gift as more or less the same, but I struggle a great deal with both when it comes to my child. It’s a tough issue for me, and has unfortunately caused some serious strife recently.

    As a parent, I see myself as a sort of buffer between my child and the outside world – at least for now. Of course she will grow older and develop her own opinions and critical thinking skills more and more, and my job then will be to step out of the way more and more. Many of the things that are meant to be wonderful gifts for children are also things that I do not want in our home for safety or other reasons: plastics, stuffed animals treated with flame retardants, items covered with licensed characters, and the list goes on. We are very particular about what we would like in our home, and this is one of the many reasons we opt out of holiday gifting and ask for “only the gift of your presence” at birthday parties.

    I love the respect behind your treatment of the candy, and every gift – it is not yours, it is your child’s. I think that’s a beautiful way to handle things. I certainly try to treat my daughter’s things this way, but I also intercept gifts fairly regularly. We are sent many well meaning gifts for her, and I always have a look before passing them on. If I think they’re appropriate, I pass them on and view them as completely hers. If they don’t fit our criteria, I tend to donate or return them. I struggle with the question of whether or not this is the “right” approach, but I struggle even more with gobs of packaging, mounds of toys, and concerns over environmental toxins, so it’s still my MO for now.

    And you thought you left long comments! 🙂

    • Thank you, Melissa. I love long comments! Buffering is a nice way of putting it. It’s the same with the choices of what to allow into their bodies, brains and our home. Donating things/reducing our toys is something I’d like to explore in the future. Things never seem to make it out of here once they’re in the house.

  5. I do not accept those kind of things. I explain to the people giving them that it would be dishonest of me to take them because I’m going to throw away their pamphlets. I tell my kids that the people giving away the candy are very nice, but that they support causes that aren’t nice, and so we don’t want to encourage them by taking their candy. My 7 year old gets it, and will sometimes ask people “what cause are you supporting?” when they try to give him things (it’s pretty funny when it’s his great-aunt giving him a cookie..) but the 2 year old just screams. By the time she’s 7, though, she’ll get it.

    As for candy in general, I don’t let them take anything unless I’m okay with them eating it right then. If it’s right before supper or whatever, I tell the giver “no thank you, it’s right before supper..” or nap time or whatever. I have no problem being “the bad guy” in those situations.

    • Thank you for commenting, Evin. I like this way of handling the candy situation, as well. It’s both honest and true to your principles. Another good example to show the kids. And I agree on the candy being for right now. It’s interesting that I was holding candy in a different place.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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