Our gingerbread houses, our tradition

Every year in the days leading up to Christmas our family had a tradition of making a gingerbread house. No, we didn’t get one of those houses you make from a kit like everyone assumes you do these days. In fact, I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen one made from a kit, or noticed where kits are sold in stores. For me, there’s only one kind of gingerbread house and that’s one made by two hands right from the start. Yes, from scratch.

Of course, it was my mother who made the gingerbread houses of my childhood. She personalized it every year for my brother and I by putting our initials on the iced roof in Smarties. Our recipe makes a pretty good gingerbread, and a nice little house; we’ve used the same architectural design for our gingerbread house for many, many years. Normally we add in some spearmint trees, a front walk, windows and a door, and the treats that garnish the icing are predominantly Smarties, with maybe jelly beans or other candies chiming in. Our house was always very festive and colourful and we looked forward to the day when we could eat it.

Invariably, though, the gingerbread house didn’t last too long in its pristine decorated condition. As the days ticked off towards Christmas little bits of the house would start to inexplicably disappear. It might be a spearmint tree here that went missing, or a Smartie popped off somewhere there. Bit by bit, pieces would get picked off by – I don’t know – gingerbread-loving house elves, always to the tune of, “Hey, stop eating the gingerbread house!” when Mom discovered another little piece gone. I suppose gingerbread houses are like turkeys in that no one can ever wait until the final moment when it’s served to dig in, you just have to pick skin bits off the bird as soon as it comes out of the oven!

Each year I would look forward to the smashing of the gingerbread house. Mom would lay a tea towel down on top of the house to prevent any stray gingerbits from flying up and poking us in the eye (I suppose) and we’d have at the house with the kitchen wooden mallet and smash it all to smithereens. Such fun! It’s like hitting a pinata but easier, and in the end you have a pile of gingerbread rubbish full of big pieces and small. Then, the eating began – or, well, continued. We’d snack on gingerbread pieces for days and days, and sometimes would have to put some in the freezer to have later because we’d be so sick of eating it. But even though we always said, “I can’t eat any more!”, the house would always get eaten every year, and knowing the last piece was gone would make me a little sad that I wouldn’t get to eat it again for another 12 months.

Now that I’m an adult, although I do tend to make the gingerbread recipe every year, I think I’ve made an actual gingerbread house only once or twice. Normally I just make the gingerbread into cookies, and ice and “Smartie” those. But this year is a different kind of year. It’s Chelsea’s first Christmas, and the house has to be done up right. We’re starting a new tradition in that we’ll hide a little toy inside the house for Chelsea to find when we smash the house on Christmas Eve. Even though she’s not old enough to know what it’s all about yet (or old enough to eat gingerbread, for that matter), Chelsea will have a gingerbread house this year and each year from now on. It’s our tradition to continue now, and I so look forward to sharing it with her. I guess I’ll be the one to make sure people don’t pick bits off of the gingerbread house from now on!

(Tune in tomorrow for pictures of this year’s house.)

5 thoughts on “Our gingerbread houses, our tradition

  1. I found this blog when I typed into google, “tradition smashing gingerbread house”. We have the same tradition, to make the house from scratch then smash it (on Jan 6), passed along by my mother-in-law and her English and German parents. I’ve always wondered, though, how the smashing tradition came about and haven’t found great info on the web. If you know the history of the smashing tradition I’d love to hear it.Ironically, it looks as though I’ve stumbled onto a knitter’s site. My mother-in-law is Meg Swansen (the one who passed along the gingerbread house tradition) and we work with her running Schoolhouse Press. I’m thinking if you are a fan of Brooklyn Tweed then you probably know of Meg and her mother Elizabeth Zimmermann. Isn’t it funny where google leads us.Snowed in on Christmas Eve!Michelle


  2. Hi Michelle, thanks for commenting. No, I have no idea where the tradition of smashing gingerbread houses comes from but it seems to make perfect sense that a house should be smashed before eaten, it’s much more fun! I have heard of Elizabeth Zimmerman because of Brooklyn Tweed but don’t profess to have knit her patterns, I’m still a novice knitter!


  3. Pingback: They say the house always wins, but… « Shades of Bliss

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