Fact Check

Did a Principal Ban Candy Canes Because They Are Shaped Like J's for 'Jesus'?

The principal of Manchester Elementary in Nebraska was put on leave as a result of the candy cane controversy.

Published Dec 7, 2018

An elementary school principal in Nebraska banned candy canes from schoolrooms because they supposedly represent Jesus.

It wouldn't be Christmas without stories about the "war on Christmas," at least not for the making of viral news. One such story involved a rather expansive list of holiday-themed items deemed "not acceptable" for holiday classroom adornment by the principal of one Nebraska elementary school.

Manchester Elementary principal Jennifer Sinclair sent a memorandum to parents and students informing them that candy canes were off limits because "Historically, the shape [of the candy cane] is a 'J' for Jesus. The red is for the blood of Christ, and the white is a symbol of his resurrection. This would also include different colored candy canes."

The list essentially banned any Christmas-specific decor or activities, including Christmas carols and music, reindeer, Elf on the Shelf, and red and green items, but it allowed for non-Christmas winter imagery such as yetis, penguins and "snowmen, snow women, snow people, snowflakes":

Acceptable practices:

Gifts to students
Students making gift for a loved one
Snowmen, snow women, snow people, snowflakes
Gingerbread people
Holidays Around the World - purposeful presentation of information to teach
about different cultures
Hot chocolate
Polar Bears
Scarves, boots, earmuffs, and hats
Olaf - Frozen

Not acceptable:

Santas or Christmas items (clipart) on worksheets
Christmas trees in classrooms
Elf on the Shelf - that’s Christmas-related
Singing Christmas Carols
Playing Christmas music
Sending a Scholastic book that is a Christmas book - that’s Christmas-related
Making a Christmas ornament as a gift - This assumes that the family has
a Christmas tree which assumes they celebrate Christmas. I challenge the
thought of, “Well they can just hang it somewhere else.”
Candy Cane - that’s Christmas-related. Historically, the shape is a “J” for
Jesus. The red is for the blood of Christ, and the white is a symbol of his
resurrection. This would also include different colored candy canes.
Red/Green items - traditional Christmas colors
Christmas videos/movies and/or characters from Christmas movies

The memo resulted in a local controversy that went national when the Christian advocacy organization Liberty Counsel published it and sent the school district a "demand letter" urging the superintendent to "to immediately overrule and specifically disavow the sweeping directive banning Christmas holiday items, and require Principal Sinclair to undertake review of District policy and the law."

Conservative news sites helped take the story national by serving up viral headlines such as "Principal banned candy canes because 'J' shape stands 'for Jesus.' But that was just for starters."

The district responded to the flap by putting Sinclair on leave and issuing the following statement:

Elkhorn Public Schools District administration promptly addressed the issue at Manchester Elementary School regarding the memo that was sent by the principal to Manchester elementary staff. The memo does not reflect the policy of Elkhorn Public Schools regarding holiday symbols in the school. The District has since clarified expectations and provided further direction to staff in alignment with District policy. This issue was limited to Manchester Elementary School and did not arise at any other schools within the District.

Ironically, Sinclair's objection to candy canes as a representation of Jesus Christ was based on a mistaken belief. No evidence suggests that the ubiquitous holiday candy treat has its roots in any religious symbolism. Such claims are, like Santa Claus and the yeti alike, myths.


Liberty Counsel.   "Christmas Goes Back to School."     4 December 2018.

Urbanksi, Dave.   "Principal Banned Candy Canes Because 'J' Shape Stands 'for Jesus.' But That Was Just for Starters."     The Blaze.   5 December 2018.

WOWT.   "Elkhorn Public Schools Addresses Internal Memo at Elementary School Banning Christmas Decorations."     5 December 2018.

KAKE.  " Nebraska Elementary School Principal on Leave for Christmas Ban."     6 December 2018.

Stack, Liam.   "How the ‘War on Christmas’ Controversy Was Created."     The New York Times.   19 December 2016.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.