Peppermint bark. Peppermint lattes. Peppermint candy canes. There is no doubt about it—peppermint is the undisputed flavor of the winter season. Mint is full of the chemical menthol, which, when tasted, activates the same nerve sensors that allow us to feel cold. We love the refreshing, cooling sensation of mint in our mouths and are reminded of winter each time we take a taste. But there is more to the story of peppermint’s hold on the winter season than its chemical composition.

Mint-flavored hard candies have been made for hundreds of years. Before the invention of air-conditioning, hard candy could be made only during the cool, dry months of winter, for heat and humidity would spoil the candy. Mint is a reliable flavoring because it does not cook off during the manufacturing process. Its flavor remains incredibly strong. For this reason, mint-flavored hard candy has always been a wintertime treat.

Legend has it that the first candy canes were invented in the 17th century by a German choirmaster who bribed his choirboys with peppermint candy sticks to keep them complacent during mass. Candy in church was not exactly solemn, so the choirmaster asked the candy maker to fashion the candy sticks into shepherds’ crooks, honoring Jesus.

It wasn’t until 1847 that a German Swedish immigrant to America named August Imgard used the candy cane as a Christmas decoration. He spun white hard candy into its crooked shape and hung the canes along with paper ornaments from a blue spruce. It would take a few more decades and the advent of mass production techniques for candy canes to get their red stripes. Why red? Some say this color represents the blood shed by Jesus on the cross, while others attribute it to the red berries and green garland of evergreen holly that has been associated with Yule traditions. Don’t wait until December 26, Candy Cane Day, to enjoy candy canes. Most people start buying them the day after Thanksgiving.