What Goes Around, Comes Around

Jessie: In NH, crossing fingers for a white Christmas!

I know I have posted here before about quirky and even ridiculous holidays that seem to be invented to fill media outlets with something to natter on about, but the truth is, I m kind of obsessed with the kitschy fun of it all! Today I was delighted to note is Gingerbread House Day. I absolutely adore gingerbread houses!

I have long loved miniature houses of all sorts. I have a cherished collection of teapots shaped like houses. I longed for a dollhouse as a child. I set up an entire Christmas village as part of my holiday decorations. But my very favorite of all is the gingerbread house.

It is a passion I was able to indulge in as an adult. I had never made, decorated, or to my memory, ever seen one in real life until I had children of my own and spotted a Christmas Cookie magazine from Better Homes and Gardens at a grocery checkout when my first was an elementary schooler. I flipped through it quickly and bought it on impulse despite our tight budget at the time.

By late the next day I had decided that in order to follow through some accountability was required so I issued invitations to several friends with children and offered to make plain houses for them all to come and decorate in a week’s time. If I had known how much work it would be I might never have started! Still, I decided on an A-frame style for the houses and by the time everyone arrived there was a slightly wonky, but totally serviceable gingerbread house for each of the children.

Over the years the guest list grew and the houses leveled up to include four walls and a roof. I received a Kitchen Aid mixer for Mother’s Day one year to make stirring the stiff dough less daunting. I picked up a tip for making a sort of super glue out of melted sugar to hold the pieces together before covering the joins with royal icing. I figured out that I didn’t need to make 3-D houses for toddlers and could make oversized cookies for them to decorate instead.

Eventually, the children all became too old to still look forward to decorating them and too young to feel nostalgic about it. I’ll admit, I was a bit heartbroken. And maybe just slightly relieved. For a couple of years, the sweet and spicy scents of molasses, ginger, and cinnamon did not fill my kitchen. Bags of just the right candies did not pile up in the dining room waiting for the guests to squeal at the sight of them. Globs of royal icing did not cling stubbornly to my hardwood floors.

But then, a couple of years ago my children all got together and asked for my recipe. They worked together to mix the dough, cut the shapes, bake it up, and assemble the pieces. They mixed up the royal icing, found the pastry bags to apply it with panache, and set about collaboratively creating a gingerbread house for us all to enjoy. I have had a life so far filled with so many delightful memories, but that one is amongst my favorites. Now if you will excuse me, I think I might just go and whip up a gingerbread house!

Readers, have you ever made a gingerbread house? Do you have a favorite holiday memory?

33 Thoughts

  1. My mom made a few throughout the years and I remember helping to decorate. And even though I did a lot of creative stuff with my own sons, gingerbread houses weren’t among them. But isn’t it lovely when your kids get old enough to be nostalgic? I love that yours got together to make a house.

      1. I was stunned when my kids stopped calling me Mommy in favor of Mom. And delighted when they later realized they were old enough to call me that again, on occasion!

  2. I love gingerbread house decorating! For many years, I bought the houses pre-assembled and my girls just decorated them. Once they didn’t need my help anymore, I bought my own to decorate! Last year, I attempted to make my own from scratch but the construction flummoxed me. I need to get some advice from my brother who makes elaborate gingerbread structures! You’ve inspired me to try again this year 🙂

  3. I’ve never made a gingerbread house, I knew I would mess it up. My favorite Christmas memories are of spending time in the kitchen with my mom making dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies. She would let me help cut them out and take the cookie sheets in and out of the oven, put the cookies on the cooling racks and help some with the decorating. We all 5 of us took enough cookies to school for our class parties when we were in grade school.

  4. I remember buying the kits for my kids that came with the parts and pieces, and then they never stuck together good lol! Yours sound wonderful, what a great memory for you and your kids!

  5. The closest I got to making a gingerbread house was a graham cracker house. I’d forgotten all about that until reading this, Jessie! Yours are beautiful!

  6. What great fun to include lots of children into your gingerbread house making through the year!

    I’ve never made one myself, but it looks like lots of fun.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  7. I started making ‘gingerbread’ houses out of graham crackers. My grandkids adored doing them and I taught a GirlScout troop.I have made them for every holiday,like Autumnal ones, Halloween, and Easter,(in pastels). I haven’t done a Fourth of July one…yet.
    they go over big for the Fall festivals the churches have here. I never thought to put them in my bakery (headsmack!)
    You did well!

  8. I love miniature houses, too! I think sometimes my life as a storyteller began with the fantasies I had of the people who lived in whatever miniature houses I came across.

    Your ritual with the gingerbread houses is very like mine making the same six kinds of Christmas cookies my mother made every year, which I’ve written about here before. When the kids got too old, I drafted the younger cousins. When they grew up, nevertheless I persisted, mailing cookie tins to college dorms and New York City apartments. Now the granddaughters participate, as they did this weekend. My daughter complained that I let them be much freer with the decorations on the butter cookies than I ever would have let her be. Part of it is being the indulgent grandmother, and part of it is being freed from the obligations of turning up with a plate of cookies for scout parties, school parties, work parties and the like. The whole ritual has gotten freer and looser with age. I kept back some dough to decorate with my older granddaughter when she arrives next weekend.

  9. I never made a gingerbread house, but I do have one memory of one that was brought into my classroom when I was in the first grade. My teacher broke it apart, and each child got a piece of it to eat. It was very good!

  10. I made them a couple of years as a kid, but we just used Graham crackers, not real gingerbread. It was fun, but not fun enough for me to do it as an adult.

  11. For a few years my mother bought ginger bread house kits and we decorated them. The first year was pretty much a disaster because we couldn’t figure out how to keep the walls from coming apart. But we got better over time and had a nice centerpiece for the table. Not being a fan of ginger bread, I was never tempted to eat the houses. 😉

  12. I forgot to mention the huge Gingerbread House Festival at the Fort Wayne-Allen County Historical Society in Fort Wayne, Indiana. With categories from Professional to different age groups, the competition produces amazing structures. And, no, they don’t get eaten.

  13. What fabulous memories, Jessie!

    Nope, I’ve never made a gingerbread house, but I can assure you, I’d eat one in a heartbeat! They looked too daunting for me to attempt. Maybe someday – – –

  14. I’ve never made one, but have always wanted to. I love your history with them, and the memories you gave your children. I’ll admit, I’m intrigued, though this year is swiss rolls and trying to perfect my madeline recipe.

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