Gingerbread houses are a favorite holiday pastime with families, be it with parents, grandparents, or even both! But these delicious, decorative bread houses have always been a staple of the holiday season for as long as people can remember. Where did they come from? Who came up with the idea? To answer those questions, we must follow the ghost of holiday’s past into the history of Gingerbread House Day!
Whether you consider yourself an expert at building gingerbread houses or you are the type of person that starts eating your creation half-way through, you’re going to love Gingerbread House Day. After all, we can all agree that the best part of the process is eating the delicious gingerbread and decorations, no matter whether you managed to turn it into a work of art beforehand or not. Gingerbread House Day is a great way to bring the family together, have some fun, and most importantly, eat some tasty and festive gingerbread.
Gingerbread is a broad category of baked goods. It relates to goods that tend to be baked and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and gingers. Molasses, sugar, and honey are also used to sweeten the gingerbread. Gingerbread foods can range from something resembling a ginger snap to a very moist and soft loaf cake.
Of course, when it comes to gingerbread for gingerbread houses, you need a good, strong biscuit. The last thing you want is for your gingerbread house to crumble to the ground. Of course, don’t bake it until it becomes a brick either unless you don’t intend on eating it afterwards!
Food historians ratify that ginger has been seasoning foodstuffs and drinks since antiquity. It is believed gingerbread was first baked in Europe at the end of the 11th century when returning crusaders brought back the custom of spicy bread from the Middle East. Ginger was not only tasty; it had properties that helped preserve the bread.
According to a French legend, gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 A.D. by the Armenian monk and later saint, Gregory of Nicopolis (Gregory Makar). Gingerbread figurines date back to the 15th century and baking human-shaped biscuits was practiced in the 16th century.
The gingerbread bakers were gathered into professional baker guilds. In many European countries, gingerbread bakers were a distinct component of the bakers’ guild. Gingerbread baking developed into an acknowledged profession. In the 17th century, only professional gingerbread bakers were permitted to bake gingerbread except at Christmas and Easter. In Europe, gingerbreads shaped like hearts, stars, soldiers, trumpets, swords, pistols and animals were sold in special shops and seasonal markets.
The tradition of making decorated gingerbread houses started in Germany in the early 1800’s. According to certain researchers, the first gingerbread houses were the result of the well-known Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. In modern times the tradition has continued in certain places in Europe. In Germany, the Christmas markets still sell decorated gingerbread before Christmas. (Lebkuchenhaus or Pfefferkuchenhaus are the German terms for a gingerbread house.)
There have been some pretty significant dates in the world of gingerbread over the years. We’re sure you’re familiar with The Gingerbread Man fairytale, the one that goes “Run, run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!” Well, this was released in 1875. It was part of the St. Nicholas Magazine’s May issue at the time.
One of the most significant dates when it comes to gingerbread houses, though, was in 2015. This is when the biggest gingerbread house in the world was created. The gingerbread house covered an area of a monumental 2,520 square-feet. To put this into perspective, this is roughly half of the size of a typical tennis court. It reached 21-feet in height. It also amassed to 35.8 million calories, but let’s not think about those pesky things! Crowned as the biggest gingerbread house in the Guinness World Records, this feat occurred in Bryan, Texas.
To celebrate Gingerbread House Day, take the family out for a shopping trip and pick up the supplies necessary to make a gingerbread house. Then let the younger members of the family pick out the decorations that they want to add to the gingerbread house. Finally, pick out the decorations that you want and add them to the house.
A lot of people have gingerbread house competitions on this date. If you can be sure that the competition won’t turn nasty, this is definitely a fun way to spend the occasion. You can have a station that is filled with gingerbread pieces and plenty of different decorations. Have fun creating your own gingerbread houses and then you can all secretly vote for your winner. You can then have a prize lined up for the person that comes in the first place. Some more gingerbread, perhaps?
You should also make sure that you have plenty of festive-inspired drinks and snacks on hand! If you don’t, someone may be tempted to eat all of the gingerbread. There are lots of great recipes online for gingerbread lattes and even gingerbread cocktails for the adults too. You can’t go wrong with a gingerbread martini, right?
At 35.8 million calories and covering an area of 2,520 square feet (nearly the size of a tennis court), a 21 foot high gingerbread house in Bryan, Texas was declared the biggest ever by Guinness World Records.
The largest gingerbread man weighed 1,435 lbs and was made by IKEA Furuset in Oslo, Norway.
"Do you know the muffin man?" Gingerbread man character, Gingy, becomes a fan favorite from 2001's Shrek.
"The Gingerbread Man", an American fairy tale, first appeared in in the May issue of St. Nicholas Magazine.
Gingerbread dough is surprisingly easy to make. You might need to run to the store for the spices (ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves) and molasses (another key ingredient), but we’re willing to bet almost everything else is already in your pantry. The hardest part is appropriately measuring out the walls and roof for your gingerbread house before you bake them. If you have extra dough, why not make some gingerbread men and women to go along with it?
Bake or buy a bunch of gingerbread house pieces, white frosting, and tons of colorful candy pieces. Invite your friends, throw on some holiday tunes, and see who can make the most beautifully decorated gingerbread house!
Come December, these drinks seem to pop up on coffee shop menus all across the country. But if you can’t seem to find one near you, it’s easy to replicate. Either buy gingerbread syrup or make your own by simmering water, sugar, ground ginger, cinnamon, and allspice on the stove until it reduces and thickens. Mix the syrup with a shot of espresso and top it off with warm milk. And like that, you’ve got holiday cheer in a mug, no barista required.
People in Europe had been eating gingerbread for centuries, but we can thank the Brothers Grimm for the popularity of gingerbread houses. They published Hansel and Gretel in the 19th century—remember that one? It’s the fairy tale where a witch lures the brother and sister into captivity in her house made out of gingerbread and candy, and then tries to fatten them up to eat them (spoiler alert: they escape!) The story became immensely popular in Germany, and people started baking gingerbread houses during the holidays as a result.
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned arts and crafts project to make you feel like a kid again. And that’s even more true when the materials for your crafting are a) edible and b) chock full of sugar. Throw in the childlike excitement that comes out in people of all ages around the holidays? That’s the trifecta right there.
The main flavor in gingerbread is, duh, ginger. It’s what gives gingerbread that warm holiday taste and subtly spicy kick. Ginger also happens to have a whole host of health benefits: it can help with indigestion or nausea, is anti-inflammatory, and might even lower cholesterol levels, lower heart disease risk factors, and have some cancer-fighting properties. Sure, it’s probably better to eat it on its own, but it’s the holidays! We won’t tell.