I love the spicy-sweet aroma of gingerbread baking in the oven. It permeates the whole house and lingers pleasantly afterwards, marking the arrival of the holiday season with its delicious scent. For me, it truly doesn’t feel like Christmas has arrived until I have made my gingerbread house.
My aunt and I started making gingerbread houses together over 20 years ago. It is a tradition I was honored to share in Storied Dishes: What Our Family Recipes Tell Us About Who We Are and Where We’ve Been, a collection of “50 short essays and recipes by women from multicultural backgrounds and dissimilar walks of life.” As I mention in my essay, entitled “Gingerbread Memories,” spending this time with my aunt made me realize that sharing space with someone in the kitchen can be very therapeutic. Whether reflecting on the past or discovering new insights, it can be a profoundly healing activity.
The year we started making our gingerbread houses was a painful time. My aunt’s daughter, my cousin Jen, had passed away only the month before, and we were both still reeling from the shock. But spending the afternoon constructing our gingerbread houses played an important role in our shared grief. It gave us something to focus on and a way to share our thoughts and memories of Jen. In between rolling out the warm, fragrant dough, waiting for it to bake, and then decorating the pieces, we both gained a deeper understanding of the young woman who had meant so much to so many people.
We enjoyed this shared experience so much that we continued doing it year after year, eventually including my children in the process. Now between crazy schedules and COVID continuing to rear its ugly head, we have not made our gingerbread houses together for the past couple years. I miss this time with my aunt but luckily we still get together at other times of the year, and I have been able to continue the gingerbread house tradition with my daughter. She is very artistic and a fantastic decorator! And it gives us the chance to talk and catch up on things. Making the house is a process that should not be rushed so it leaves plenty of time for fun discussion and reminiscing. It is a custom I hope to pass down for generations to come!
This post explains how to make and decorate the house.
See some examples from past holidays in the Gingerbread Houses Gallery.
For further reading on women’s shared cultural food experiences, see:
- Cooking lessons : the politics of gender and food
- Pilaf, pozole, and pad thai : American women and ethnic food
- Eat my words : reading women’s lives through the cookbooks they wrote