Each year, as the days become shorter and people look forward to the holidays, the sights, sounds, and delicious smells of the season fill the air and help to bring light to darker and longer nights. A creative and joyful custom that doesn’t seem to have a direct relationship with any other holiday celebrations, is the tradition of decorated gingerbread houses.
Covered with frosting and candy on rough German-style gingerbread, these original and colorful houses, have a unique, and delicious origin.
The tradition possibly began in Germany during the early 1800s, and it seems to be closely linked to the Grimm fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.
According to some food historians, the Brothers Grimm were writing about something that already existed, but no-one seems to know for certain if making Gingerbread Houses was inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel, or the reverse — if Gingerbread Houses were already being made and inspired the tale.
In the Grimm fairytale, two children, Hansel and Gretel, get lost in the woods. They come upon a house made of gingerbread covered in frosting and candy. Unfortunately, it is the house of a wicked witch. She welcomes, and then traps the children so that she can fatten them up and eat them. Fortunately, Hansel and Gretel escape in the end.
After this book was published in 1812, German bakers began baking ornamented fairy-tale houses of lebkuchen (gingerbread). excelling in gingerbread making, bakers constructed gpfeffer kuchenhausen and hired artists to deck them out with lavish designs. These became popular during Christmas.
Regardless of the place in time, the story of Hansel and Gretel helped popularize the gingerbread house in Germany. There is a rhyme in Germany about Gingerbread Houses that is recited by the witch in Hansel and Gretel In the original German it is:
Knusper, knusper, knäuschen,
wer knuspert an meinem Häuschen?
Der Wind, der Wind,
das himmlische Kind.
The English translation is:
Nibble, nibble, gnaw
Who is nibbling at my little house
The wind, the wind
The heavenly child.
Another interesting connection, is that Gingerbread Houses are sometimes called ‘Hexenhaus” (Witch’s House) in German.
Making gingerbread houses is still a way of celebrating Christmas in many families in both Europe and North America. Traditionally, they are built before Christmas using pieces of baked gingerbread dough assembled with melted sugar. The roof tiles can consist of frosting or candy. The gingerbread house yard is usually decorated with icing to represent snow.
Today, the simple tradition of creating gingerbread houses has evolved into an extensive world of exhibitions, events and competitions showcasing extraordinary castles, fantasy dwellings from children’s stories, re-creations of historical buildings, and even entire villages.
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