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Gingerbread Houses: A Holiday Tradition

Venn Crawford

I have three grandchildren, all ages four and under. I want them to always look forward to the holidays as a magical time of year, and I want to make wonderful memories with them that we’ll cherish forever. The holiday traditions they grow up with are a large part of that! For kids especially, candy and treats are one of the exciting parts of Christmas (or any holiday, really), and so I’m starting a tradition of making gingerbread houses with my grandkids. This year I bought a frame for the house, as well as lots of decorations and icing.

Gingerbread houses first started being made after the Grimm brothers’ tale “Hansel and Gretel” was published. Professional gingerbread bakers saw an opportunity and started baking fancy fairy-tale type houses. These grew popular at Christmastime, and a tradition was born!

Making gingerbread houses can get pretty intense. Some people go for size – the largest gingerbread house ever made was 2,520 square feet! Hansel and Gretel would have loved that, I bet. Other people go for size in a different way and build entire towns. The largest gingerbread village even had a commercial district with 22 buildings on top of the 135 gingerbread homes in the village.

The Grove Park Inn in Asheville hosts an annual gingerbread house competition. The winners have already been selected for this year, and you can go see their creations yourself! Parking is $20, and half the proceeds go to nonprofits that help support the local community. You can see the 3rd place gingerbread house below – would you believe that’s made of gingerbread?
3rd Place Winner, At Waters Edge, Beatriz Muller
Since my grandchildren are so young, our gingerbread houses will be much simpler. I’ll bet that they’ll get more ambitious with them as they get older, though.

Feeling inspired and want to try your hand at a show-stopping gingerbread house? I’ve compiled some of the best tips below so that you can take your career as a gingerbread architect to the next level (or at least impress your kids).

Gingerbread Tips

You can use small wafer-shaped pieces of gingerbread to make shingles for your roof. Sprinkle sanding sugar over the icing on your roof to get that rough shingle texture. Make sure the sugar is the same color as the icing you used on the roof!

Want to draw patterns on your walls with icing? Lay your walls out on a sheet of wax paper and decorate them before you construct the building. It’s a lot easier that way. If you’re coating the wall with icing for color, you should also do that before you assemble. It will look neater that way, and the coating won’t become uneven due to gravity pulling it down the walls.

Icing takes a while to set, and if you try to just glue pieces together without any support, the house might fall apart due to its weight. To keep things in place while the icing dries, use a can next to them to keep them from falling over.

Get creative with your decorations! Powdered sugar makes a great snow effect, whereas fruit roll-ups can be glued behind windows to make “stained glass.” Cover a sugar cone with green icing to make a Christmas tree. Attach candy like lifesavers or gumdrops to the shorter end of a candy cane to make instant streetlights. The possibilities are endless, and if you’re ever lacking inspiration or don’t know how to make a specific decoration, just do a quick google search and look at how others have made their houses.

No matter how intricate or simple you choose to make your gingerbread house, make sure you remember to have fun with it – because that’s what makes a good holiday memory.

by Venn Crawford

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