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

In the Heart of Halloween

Just in time for the holiday — a look at

the tradition,

the customs,

the history

and the foods. 

 

Halloween is one of the oldest holidays that is still celebrated today, and its origins, myths and history make it especially fascinating.

Viewed by some as a time for fun, putting on costumes, trick-or-treating, and having theme parties, Halloween also embraces a world of superstitions, ghosts, goblins and evil spirits that are to be avoided!

There are many versions of the origins and old customs of Halloween, and while different cultures celebrate Halloween in different ways, most of the  traditional Halloween practices remain the same.

There is still some disagreement over Halloween’s origins, but it is generally believed that the celebration can be traced back over 2000 years to the Druids, and the Celtic culture in Ireland, Britain and Northern Europe. Its Roots lay in the feast of Samhain, recognized annually to honor the dead on October 31st.

The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes at this time, and the autumn festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, goblins, black cats, fairies and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about the streets and villages at night.

In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favourable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes.

In Ireland especially, people thought that ghosts and spirits roamed after dark on Halloween. They lit candles or lanterns to keep the spirits away, and if they had to go outside, they wore costumes and masks to frighten the spirits or to keep from being recognized by the unearthly

Halloween was thought to be a night when mischievous and evil spirits roamed, and the mischievous spirits could play tricks on the living—so it was advantageous to “hide” from them by wearing costumes. Masks and costumes were worn to either scare away the ghosts or to keep from being recognized by them.

In Mexico, the Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a holiday that celebrates and honors friend and family members who have passed away. The Day of the Dead is said to be the time that heaven’s gates are opened and the spirits of loved ones are able to reunite with their friends and families.


Today Halloween has gone from an informal affair to a holiday celebrated by millions of people. In the US, as much as $6 billion is spent annually on Halloween merchandise, and Halloween commercials fill the airwaves as early as September.

Halloween has many food traditions, some with ancient roots.  Pumpkins are carved, kids bob for apples, and candy is consumed in massive quantities – a lot of candy.   In fact, the amount of candy eaten on Halloween has long surpassed the amount eaten at Christmas and Valentine’s Day. In 2011, $2.3 billion was spent on Halloween candy – that is a lot of sugar!

Pumpkin is a vital ingredient of Halloween celebrations. While the Jack-O-lanterns are commonly placed on the windows, people relish this vegetable in the form of pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, cheese pumpkin, or even as pumpkin desserts.

The Samhain practice of fortunetelling carried over into America with activities like bobbing for apples, where unmarried young adults would take turns trying to bite an apple, either hanging from a tree or floating in water, without the use of their hands. The first person to bite into an apple would supposedly be the next to marry. Young women would also peel apples onto the ground in hopes of seeing their future husband’s name spelled out in the peels.


Our new book – In the Heart of Halloween — covers all these topics and more.  Chapters include:

Worldwide Traditions

Origins in Samhain

Growth in North America

Customs – trick or treating, jack-o-lanterns,

Mexico: Day of the Dead

Festivals Around the World

A world of superstitions, ghosts, goblins and evil spirits

Witches, Magic and Divination

Foods of Halloween

Children’s Rhymes and Songs


Request a copy of our new book in pdf format.  Just send your name and request for

In the Heart of Halloween – The Origins, Foods, and Customs

The email address is transformations@humanities-exchange.org


There is no charge for the 65 page book, but if you wish, we would welcome a donation of $2.00 or $5.00

If you would like to donate, please click the paypal button below

 


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Mexico’s Day of the Dead

 

Three Exhibitions Focusing on the Environment

Three new exhibitions that focus on the environment and recycling, and the challenges that face humanity and the planet today.

What Color is Your Dream?

A playful and learning experience for children about recycling and creativity -– where 70 artists and craftspeople from around the world have recycled and transformed discarded and abandoned hubcaps into unique and unusual works of art.

The project celebrates our common love of creativity by sharing extraordinary and unique artworks that are from the LandfillArt Collection.  The exhibition shows how creativity is universal around the world and that everything can be transformed into original art.  It shows how creativity is something that holds this earth together and brings us all closer.

See information here  


On the Road Again

This celebrates America’s love affair with the automobile, and driving,  while highlighting environmental issues and the benefits of recycling.

Like the words from Willy Nelson’s popular song, the exhibition commemorates and celebrates  driving on the “Open Road”.

On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is making music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again


“The car has become an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad and incomplete.  Marchall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964

Reflections of Audrey, by Marylou Chibirka, Dalton, Pennsylvania

See information here


A Wheel within a Wheel

Artists from around the world speaking out on environmental issues and the need for recycling.  In this exhibition,

 

Some artists concentrated on specific threats to our environment, informing us about such issues as a disease that decimates bee populations and invasive plants that overwhelm nature preserves or clog lakes and rivers

Some focused on the beauty and fragility of the land — depictions of the landscape and the animals and plants that inhabit it recall nature’s delicate balance

And other artists  explored the potential of reusing and recycling material —  in their hands, workroom scraps, broken dishes, and even recycled paint became art.

One of the artists represented in the exhibition expresses it best:

“Throughout history, artists have expressed their ideas about the times they lived in. The Landfillart project delivers an important, powerful environmental message about our times through the voice of the artists
Marilyn Chapman from Victoria, BC, Canada

Petroleum Pearl, By Rosemary Luckett, Manassas, Virginia

See information here