December 18, 2016 - January 7, 2017: Issue 294


Overview of the Gingerbread Village display.


by George Repin

The tradition of making decorated gingerbread houses started in Germany in the early 1800s and subsequently spread in Europe. It was carried also, by German immigrants, to Pennsylvania and Maryland in the United States of America. It is still very much alive today both in Europe and the U.S.A. 
Making gingerbread houses as Christmas decorations is a way of celebrating Christmas in many families, with children helped by their parents actively involved.

The ancient Greeks and Egyptians are known to have prepared gingerbread and the production of Lebkuchen – gingerbread – was widespread in medieval times.  It was baked firm so that it could be used for religious ceremonial purposes.  Specially prepared molds were used to create images of saints and other important religious figures.  Patterns and designs became increasingly detailed and intricate. Russian gingerbread makers are credited with making the first gingerbread men and women.

Specialist bakers are recorded as early as 1296 in Ulm and 1395 in Nuremberg.  In the 1600s the guild in Nuremberg started to employ master bakers and skilled workers to make complicated works of art from gingerbread.  Spices used included ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom, with honey as the sweetener.  Religious gingerbread reliefs were made for events such as Christmas and Easter and often were used as window decorations.

However, according to some researchers it was not until the publication of the Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel that the making of gingerbread houses started. (In the fairy tale the two children, abandoned in a forest, found a house they could eat, made of bread with sugar decorations.)  After the book was published German bakers started baking ornamented fairy tale houses of lebkuchen.  The new houses adopted the German style of gingerbread because of its harder consistency allowing taller and more elaborate structures to be made.

Technically a gingerbread house is a model house made of gingerbread, often covered with candies and icing.  This is the most common form, but it can be any other type of building – such as a castle, a small cabin, a church or even a sports stadium. 

In some places gingerbread villages are constructed with cars, trains, cable cars and figures of men and women added. Royal icing is used as an adhesive in these constructions.  In 1991 the city of Bergen in Norway started the practice of building, each year, a city of gingerbread houses.  In San Francisco two hotels, the St. Francis and the Fairmont, each Christmas have competed with rival gingerbread houses.

The National Gingerbread House Competition has been held for over twenty years in Asheville, North Carolina.  It attracts over 400 entries from the best gingerbread house designers in the U.S.A.

The photographs accompanying this article are of a gingerbread village on board the cruise ship Sea Princess at Christmas in December 2011.
Closer view of the Gingerbread Village display.
Power station with stream running down the hill.
Detailed view of houses.
Railway in the foreground.
Detailed view of buildings.
Cable car running up the mountain.

Previous Reflections by George Repin 

The Nineteen Thirties  Remembering Rowe Street  The Sydney Push  Saturday Night at the Movies  Shooting Through Like A Bondi Tram  A Stop On The Road To Canberra  City Department Stores - Gone and Mostly Forgotten  An Australian Icon - thanks to Billy Hughes  Crossing The Pacific in the 1930s  Hill End  The Paragon at Katoomba  Seafood In Sydney  How Far From Sydney?  Cockatoo Island Over The Years  The Seagull at the Melbourne Festival in 1991  Busby's Bore  The Trocadero In Sydney  Cahill's restaurants Medical Pioneers in Australian Wine Making  Pedal Power and the Royal Flying Doctor Service  Pambula and the Charles Darwin Connection  Gloucester and the Barrington Tops  A Millenium Apart  Have You Stopped to Look?  Gulgong  Il Porcellino  Olympia  Durham Hall  Sargent's Tea Rooms Pie Shops and Street Photographers The Ballet Russes and Their Friends in Australia  Hotels at Bondi  Alma Ata Conference - 1978 Keukenhof - 1954 The Lands Department Building and Yellowblock Sandstone  The Goroka Show - 1958  A Gem On The Quay  Staffa  The Matson Line and Keepsake Menus Kokeshi Dolls  The Coal Mine At Balmain  The Hyde Park Barracks  The Changing Faces Of Sydney From Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents Nell Tritton and Alexander Kerensky  Making A Difference In Ethiopia William Balmain  J C Bendrodt and Princes Restaurant Azzalin Orlando Romano and Romano's Restaurant  Waldheim  Alcohol in Restaurants Before 1955  King Island Kelp  The Mercury Theatre   Around Angkor - 1963   Angkor Wat 1963  Costumes From the Ballets Russe Clifton at Kirribilli  Chairman Mao's Personal Physician  The Toby Tavern The MoKa at Kings Cross  The Oceaographic  Museum  in Monaco  The Island of Elba  Russian Fairy Tale Plates  Meteora  Souda Bay War Cemetery Barrow, Alaska  Cloisonné  Tripitaka Koreana Minshuku The Third Man Photographs and Memories  Not A Chagall!  Did You Listen? Did You Ask?  Napier (Ahuriri, Maori) New Zealand  Borobudur  Ggantija Temples Plumes and Pearlshells  Murano  University of Padua  Ancient Puebloe Peoples - The Anasazi   Pula  The Gondolas of Venice Cinque Terre  Visiting the Iban David The Living Desert Bryce Canyon National Park   Aphrodisias   The Divine Comedy Caodaism  Sapa and local Hill People  A Few Children  Cappadocia  Symi Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre   Aboriginal Rock Art on Bigge Island    ANZAC Cove (Ari Burnu) 25 April, 1997  Hotere Garden Oputae  Children of the Trobriand Islands  Page Park Market - Rabaul  Rabual   Kotor, Montenegro   Galleries of Photographs I   Lascaux  Galleries of Photographs II   The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia  Ivan Meštrović  - Sculptor   Delphi   Gallery of Photographs III  The Handicrafts of Chiang Mai Raft Point  San Simeon - "Hearst Castle"  Floriade - The Netherlands - 1982  Russian New Year  Mycenae  "Flightseeing" Out Of Anchorage Alaska  The White Pass and Yukon Route  Totem Poles  Tivkin Cemetery  Krka National Park - Croatia   Tavistock Square and the BMA  Orthodox Easter  Wieliczka Salt Mine  A Walk on Santorini  Indonesian Snapshots Ephesus - The Library of Celsus  Ephesus - Some Places Of Interest  Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley United Nations Headquarters 1958  A Miscellany of Flower Images Gardens Bath St. David's In Wales   Zion National Park Nicholas Himona - Artist  Kraków  Lilianfels  Collonges-La-Rouge  

Copyright George Repin 2016. All Rights Reserved.