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Gingerbread Traditions

Posted by Elisa Taub
Gingerbread Traditions

by Suzy Wurtz

'Tis the season. The season of, among other things, gingerbread houses. These architectural confections hold strong memories for my family.

"What are your recollections of all the gingerbread houses we've made?" I asked my 6th grader.

"That you held them together with tacks," she replied without a pause.

Actually it was finishing nails and straight pins. Tacks would have been too short and too thick. But who was I to intrude on my daughter's warm memories of the holidays?

Our first gingerbread house was a gorgeous, expensive creation from an upscale bakery. A single, middle-aged man who employed my husband gave it to our daughter when she was one year old. Only a guy without children would choose such a posh, perishable present for a toddler. It was so beautiful that we couldn't bear to have our child smash it, so we kept it on the table and let her look at it. We also couldn't bear to eat it so we let it dry out. I think we finally threw it away the following Memorial Day.

Remembering that lovely construction a few years later, I bought a gingerbread house kit with pre-made walls, tubes of frosting and small bags of candy decorations. A prefabricated gingerbread house for a preschooler seemed like a great idea.

I know you've never done this, but I started the project with my daughter without reading all of the directions. We opened the cellophane to find that the walls and roof needed a number of hours to "set" before you applied the decorative trim. We were to glue the walls and roof at the contact spots with the frosting mortar, prop it up with various cans from the cupboard and let the frosting mortar "set." It didn't give directions on how to explain "set" to a three year old at 7 p.m. on a December evening. After much whining (from me as much as my child), we went to bed, vowing to continue the project early the next day. However, in the morning, the mortar frosting still wasn't holding the walls and roof together. Out came the sugar and I whipped up additional stiff frosting. Still no luck.

So I got out the hot glue gun. It worked better than the frosting, but didn't quite do the job. The cans had to stay around the structure to secure it. So we decorated the cans of green beans and chicken noodle soup, too. I explained to my daughter that she didn't get to eat the gingerbread house, but oh, oh, oh, wasn't it fun just to decorate one? And weren't those big cans next to the gingerbread house cute, too? Let's imagine they were full of toys!

The following year, we received a gingerbread house kit as a gift. That year, I skipped the frosting mortar entirely and brought down the hot glue gun from the start. Along with a few straight pins, this was a much more efficient way to build a house. My husband volunteered some thin finishing nails to the project and we were off and running. A family tradition was in the making.

When my child was five, we had a friend from out of state visit us in early December. I thought it would be a nice bonding experience for the friend if he and the child would decorate a gingerbread house together. My friend looked suspicious and said, "You used hot glue to hold the gingerbread house together? How do you eat it?"

"This is art, not food," I answered. They created a lovely decorative structure with no further questions.

And so it was. We fashioned more gingerbread houses over the next years, all held together with hot glue, pins, and nails. We discovered enhanced hot glue techniques. We got better at decorating and added appropriate small toys and tokens to the landscape. Each year, we ate candy from the bags BEFORE it went on the house. We laughed and took pictures of the results.

People often wince when I repeat this story of gingerbread with hot glue and nails. But we're fond of our family holiday tradition because it's just that--it's ours.

SUZY WURTZ is a columnist, speaker, and educator who lives in Gibbon, Minnesota. Visit her on the web at