Oh Snap - A Brief History of the Gingerbread House
"The perfect man. He's rich. He's sweet. And if he acts up, you can bite his head off."
By: Nolan Thompson
Imagine you and your sibling are lost in a forest. The day grows dark and night turns all light to an all-consuming black. The howl of wolves are not so distant and not even the moon can pierce through the thick growth weighing above you. You seek out whatever sanctuary you can find when you come across the sweet smell of baking bread and the caramelization of sugar.
Following your nose, you discover a house of candy. Yes, candy. The windows are aglow with the warmth of the safety inside. You are welcomed in by an all too happy host. She feeds you, and feeds you and feeds you. Even when you are far from hungry, she is sure to feed you more. Later, she will attempt to eat you and your sibling and you both will kill her in your escape but this is not the important part. The important part was this house of candy. This is what the children of Bavaria got from this grim venture, kicking off a tradition causing long hours in kitchens to this day.
This was the start of the gingerbread house.
Gingerbread as we know it first showed up in modern Germany in the 11th century with returning Crusaders from the Middle East. They had discovered the spiced bread in the kitchens of cities such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Bethlehem actually translates to House of Bread in Hebrew. By 1395 Nuremberg was recognized as the gingerbread capital of the world. The craft would spread throughout Europe over the following centuries wherein the court of Elizabeth I the 'gingerbread man' is first documented to appear as a novel treat crafted to honor royal guests by decorating gingerbread in their likeness.
Fast forward a few hundred years and a pair of brothers would craft a series of fairytales including that of Hansel and Gretal. The inspired idea of a house made of candy sparked the imaginations of many, compelling the construction of frosted rooftop housing and gumdrop landscaping. This revolution would put an end to almost two centuries of homelessness for gingerbread people across Europe.
Today these candy chalets have taken on entirely new forms. From simple A-Frame housing to luxury mansions and spaceships. Rolling with the punches, failure in construction has also been recently embraced with the addition of plastic dinosaurs.
Nothing says perfect like the ruins of a well-intended idea being lorded over by your cousin's hand me down Godzilla figure. Be sure to keep a dino handy as you construct this season. It may just save the day.
If you're looking for ideas and happen to be near New York this month, check out the world's largest gingerbread village at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Gingerbread Lane, as its called, is home to over 1,300 structures. That's a reasonably sized settlement.
Whether exploring Nuremberg, the former world capital, this small colony in Queens or just googling gingerbread fails it's important we remember one thing. This treasured tradition all started with a story of attempted cannibalism and a case of homicidal self-defense. Grimm fairytales, indeed. Kind of makes you think what mid evil Germany was once like.
As it is, we hope you had happy holidays and learned something new!
Interested in going to Germany?
Check out our Oktoberfest trip here!