Gingerbread houses are a fun Christmas tradition for many families around the world. The tradition has been around for many 100’s of years.
The term gingerbread originated in Medieval England and meant preserved ginger. Today, the term gingerbread is now broadly used to describe any type of sweet treat that combines ginger with honey, treacle or molasses.
The first known recipe for gingerbread came from the Ancient Greeks around 2400 B.C. Then it migrated to China, and from China it spread all throughout Europe and to the rest of the world. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court. Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England.
The making of gingerbread houses started in Germany in the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.
When the Colonists came to America, they brought the tradition of the gingerbread house to America, where is has blossomed and has become a time-honored family tradition at Christmas. They can be big or small. Some are simple while others are quite elaborate. There are no rules. Just let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you. If stored and cared for properly, they can last a lifetime too.
This is Janet and Bob’s gingerbread house that their kids, Jeanette and Brian, made eons ago, when they were still kids themselves. They now have kids of their own and the tradition continues.
These are some random samples of gingerbread houses from around the world.
Believe it or not, I have never made a gingerbread house. I was going to with my students, but their mom said they had already made theirs. I was looking forward to it too. Oh well, I guess I will have to make mine another time. Maybe next year.
Enjoy the season and spend time with fun family traditions with those you love. Make them merry and bright and a time to spread good cheer.
Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.