The Magic of Gingerbread Houses

Just in time for the holidays — a look at the tradition, the customs, the history, and the enthusiastic competitions. 


Every year thousands of pounds of flour, sugar, ginger, and candies are used to create magical houses, palaces, fairy tales, fantasy villages, and futuristic structures — all edible and temptingly aromatic.


Alice in Wonderland, from the Seattle Sheraton 2012 Display, Once Upon a Time.

Edible Architecture is the story of gingerbread houses — their link to the popular fairy tale Hansel and Grelel, the enthusiastic and highly competitive contests sponsored every year, the Guiness record breakers creating the largest houses or gingerbread villages, the traditions that are celebrated around the world, and the chefs that create these fantasy palaces from hundreds of pounds of flour, sugar, ginger, and candy.


Gingerbread houses have surged in popularity and it’s not too difficult to understand why. “Gingerbread House-making” combines the skills of baker, architect and visionary. For a family-designed gingerbread house, it takes many hands—both adult and child-size to construct the dream home. During the holiday season of sugar plum fairies and other food-related enchantment, it’s the perfect time to blend spices and flour to create a cookie palace.

The tradition of making decorated gingerbread houses probably began in Germany during the early 1800s, and was closely linked to the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.



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.


Since the 1950s, it has been a White House tradition to have a special gingerbread houe for the enjoyment of the thousands of visitors during the holiday period.  In the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2016, over 68,000 visitors and guests were entertained at the White House.


North Americans have been baking gingerbread for over 200 years, and even George Washington’s mother is credited with a recipe. The tradition of gingerbread baking was brought to the New World by the German-speaking communities of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and pastries were baked as ginger snap cookies and became popular as Christmas tree decorations.


Gingerbread house competitions have been popular in the US and Canada for over 20 years. 


The largest is spnsored by the Grove Park Inn in Ashville, North Carolina.  It attracts over 400 of the best designers from across the country every year.


Even the Guiness World Records have gotten into the excitement and their Largest Gingerbread House broke the world record in 2013 built by the Texas A&M Traditions Club in Bryan Texas,  The huge structure had an internal volume of 1,110 square meeters, length of 160 feet, and was 42 feet wide.  Covering an area of 2,520 square feet, the 21 foot ingerbread housee had an edible exterior mounted over a wooden frame.


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Bergen, Norway annual Gingerbread Village

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