The Sweet Gingerbread House Christmas Tradition

All the fanciest Christmas cheer seems to come from Germany (or close to it). The gingerbread house is no exception. Gingerbread has a rich (or sweet?!) history, even an ancient history, but the quaint gingerbread cottages as we know them today originated from the country that knows how to decorate for it: Germany. 

Ginger root has ancient medicinal roots from China, but made its way to Europe during the Middle Ages. Its zingy flavor could disguise the sub-par taste of food subjected to questionable food-preservation methods of the time. It is thought that Henry VIII even used ginger to ward off the plague. Hard gingerbread cookies were a staple all over Europe. It is thought that Queen Elizabeth I had gingerbread cookies decorated to resemble members of her court. Gingerbread cookies were not only confined to Christmas, but these popular cookies were staples at fairs and changed shape to match the season.

The gingerbread house specifically originated in Germany in the 16th century. Carefully constructed houses, complete with sturdy cookie walls and roofs, glued together with royal icing, became associated with Christmas. Gilding, with paper-thin gold leaf, was a common—and fancy—way these delicious cookie houses were decorated. In the 17th century there was a gingerbread baking profession, and the general public was only allowed to bake gingerbread at Christmas or Easter. It is thought that gingerbread houses morphed from functional and for professionals only to a common Christmas decoration after Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” became popular. The sibling pair are lost and hungry in the woods and stumble across an edible house. 

These days gingerbread houses are a Christmas mainstay. They have become a festive Christmas tradition and a magical Christmas decoration. For the ambitious, a gingerbread mold and royal icing (homemade or store-bought) are excellent starting points to build your own gingerbread village. If you’re looking for Christmas shortcuts, buying a gingerbread house prepped, easy to build and ready for candy, we’ve always loved Trader Joe’s A-Frame house, the pre-assembled Costco kit and a cute village complete with a few different houses.

Then there’s the candy. A purist might only decorate with delicate white icing, however there’s nothing fun to pick off and nibble on if only icing is used. Most kids (and some adults!) believe the more candy the better, but these gingerbread houses feature nuts, candies and themes that  add sophistication to the gingerbread experience. 

But of course, though they are not edible, our gingerbread house ornaments and the entire collection of Ginger Cottages top our list of best houses. We have four gingerbread-house ornaments. The first is the gingerbread church ornament. The details are delicious, and it’s ready to ring its Christmas bells. The second gingerbread ornament is the cookie cottage. It is quaint and sweet and looks perfectly ready to eat. The third gingerbread ornament is the gingerbread house ornament which features a sparkling pink roof and candy canes that look good enough to nibble on (but don’t do it!). And a fan favorite is the gingerbread barn ornament. Its cheery red roof and silo are delicately decorated with white, sparking icing snow. If it's not sparkling Christmas ornaments you're looking for, and want more of a Christmas display, Ginger Cottages might be just for you. We think the most "gingerbready" Ginger Cottages are the Elf Cottage, Gingerbread Cottage and Santa's Reindeer Barn. But the collection goes way beyond just quaint cottages to include Santa's North Pole Express Engine and all the train cars!

Whether it’s an ornament on your tree or an edible gingerbread house on your counter, Old World Christmas believes gingerbread houses are a beautiful, memorable and creative activity for the Christmas season. 

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Written by

Rachael Mitchell

Rachael Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington, and has over 15 years of writing experience. She’d never be able to pick just one favorite ornament, but narrowed it down to the S’more and Tennis Ball. She always looks forward to s’mores in the summer with friends and family adding gourmet ingredients, and played 4 years of college tennis in the mid-west.

1 comment

I never knew any of this, very interesting! I’ve been googling around trying to find some ideas for gingerbread houses since our son finally let us throw his 3-month-old gingerbread house away in our dumpster rental. He’s been hounding us to make another one so while he draws up his plans, I wanted to see if I can find something cool myself! This is definitely some neat history that I’ll be sharing with him!

Jeanie Manser

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