History of Gingerbread Houses

You probably remember decorating gingerbread houses both at school and at home as a kid during the holidays. However, have you ever stopped to wonder what gingerbread houses and men have to do with Christmas?

If you did, you probably couldn’t come up with much and that’s because there is very little association between building gingerbread houses and Saint Nick, religious traditions, or any other holiday ties. Instead, gingerbread houses have their own unique, yet coincidental, history.

Gingerbread is tied to Christmas because it was traditionally baked as a hard cookie-like cracker used for special religious ceremonies. During the holidays, gingerbread was used to create edible characters with significant spiritual meaning. However, the creation of such items was only allowed during the holidays and that is likely how gingerbread became associated with Christmastime.

So, where did gingerbread houses come from then? They began in Germany sometime in the 16th century. Their origination is closely tied to the story of the children Hansel and Gretel, who stumble on a house made entirely of treats while strolling through the woods.

It’s unclear whether the houses are a result of the story or the story came to life because of the houses. In either case, gingerbread and gingerbread houses made their way to America with the colonists and quickly became a favorite Christmastime tradition.

Gingerbread house building has evolved from a fun family tradition to an elaborate competition. While most of us gather around the table and eat more icing and candy than goes on the house, there are professional gingerbread artists who compete to win significant prizes.

Since 1992, the National Gingerbread House Competition has been held in Asheville, North Carolina. It now attracts over 400 entrants from across the nation each year! Entries are featured at the Omni Grove Inn and must hold up to months of display, in addition to being 75% gingerbread and 100% edible. Overall judgment is based on appearance, originality, creativity, difficulty, precision, and consistency of theme. It has become quite competitive.

Luckily, gingerbread house kits can be found at many grocery stores making it easy to build a masterpiece with the family. Home gingerbread building traditions are about togetherness and fellowship which epitomizes Christmas.