One family tradition that many Americans do during Christmas is build gingerbread houses together, a symbol of family and of home. Although not a religious tradition, it does remind us that being together as a family is God-given and something to be thankful for and cherish.
In the late 17th century, gingerbread became associated with Christmas. Russian bakers prepared gingerbread men and women, usually as replicas of those people attending parties. Gingerbread houses were introduced about 200 years later, when the Grimm brothers wrote Hansel and Gretel, in which the two children abandoned in the forest found an edible house made of bread with sugar decorations. After this book was published, German bakers began baking ornamented fairy-tale houses of gingerbread. These became popular during Christmas and a new holiday tradition was born.
Gingerbread houses, once finished, are meant to be admired and appreciated, but not eaten.
The 1875 gingerbread man story
In the 1875 St. Nicholas tale, a childless old woman bakes a gingerbread man, who leaps from her oven and runs away. The woman and her husband give chase, but are unable to catch him. The gingerbread man then outruns several farm workers, farm men, and farm animals.
I’ve run away from a little old woman, A little old man, and I can run away from you, I can!
The tale ends with a fox catching and eating the gingerbread man who cries as he is devoured, “I’m quarter gone…I’m half gone…I’m three-quarters gone…I’m all gone!”
Gingerbread man poem
Run, run, run as fast as you can. You’ll never catch me, I’m the gingerbread man. I ran from the baker and his wife too. You’ll never catch me, not any of you.
The record for the biggest house is held by Traditions Club in Texas. Their house, built on November 30, 2013, was nearly 60 feet tall and over 40 feet wide, and contained 35.8 million calories.
How to build a gingerbread house
Royal icing is the edible “glue” or mortar that holds a gingerbread house together and can be used to make fancy sugar decorations. It’s the best option for projects like gingerbread houses since, unlike buttercream frosting, royal icing will harden once dry.
Decorate the separate pieces of the house and let them dry before putting the house together. It’s easier for kids to add candies on a flat surface. Plus, the candies will stay put and not fall off as they work.
Let it dry! Each attachment needs at least a couple of hours before being handled or moved. Put the walls together and let those dry for a couple of hours again. Then you can add the roof.
It’s not always easy for kids to be patient, so it’s a good idea to have some other activity lined up in between steps to distract kids while they’re waiting to work on the house.
There’s also kits you can purchase if you don’t want to bake from scratch.