A wonderful holiday tradition, the act of making a gingerbread house is both creative as well as tasty. But where did it all come from? How did we ever arrive at making delicious gingerbread houses and why during Christmas? Today, we will be discussing the origins of gingerbread and the houses that would sooner come from it. 

history of gingerbread houses

Why is gingerbread called gingerbread?

The term gingerbread is an old french word, which actually means “preserved ginger”. The root was first cultivated in ancient China and was eventually discovered that it helped to preserve both flour and meat. Because of this, ginger was baked into little crisps, that eventually became cookies in Western Europe. These cookies or “fairings” as they would be called at the time, grew wide popularity at fairs, hence the name. Many fairings were decorated with gilded edges and would be the foundation of what would today be known as the gingerbread house. 

What is a gingerbread house?

A gingerbread house is a confectionery house usually made from a hardened ginger biscuit, often referred to as a “ginger nut”. This house is typically decorated with an assortment of frosting and candied elements. This practice stems from the tradition of baking ginger into small cookies, called snap cookies during European and North American holidays. The general characteristics of a gingerbread house is that the end product should resemble some form of architect, but nowadays, it is very loosely applied. A gingerbread house can be made to look like anything, with the important rule of it being constructed entirely of edible items, namely candy and gingerbread

homemade gingerbread house

Who Invented the gingerbread house?

The actual inventor is largely unknown as gingerbread constructions can be found as far back as ancient Greece and even further in China, but for the Europeans and North America, the practice of making gingerbread houses originates in Germany during the 1800’s. As gingerbread was already used to make different forms of art, German bakers took this to the next step, basing their creation off a very popular fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, “Hansel and Gretel” where two children are abandoned in a forest before discovering an edible house made of bread and sugar. Bakers took descriptions of this house from the story and began approximating their own take on a gingerbread house. This would be most popular during christmas, as it was common place tradition to consume ginger snap cookies around this time as well. 

What is the purpose of a gingerbread house?

The purpose of a gingerbread house is two fold-to provide an artistic medium and of course to eat. Gingerbread houses are commonly made nowadays to express creativity in a more fun and visually vibrant medium. With the world of sweets available, the cost of materials certainly isn’t high and the ceiling for creativity is nearly endless, creating a fun practice both for children and adults alike.  Plus, afterwards, you can eat your creation, something all children can greatly appreciate. 

making a gingerbread house

History of gingerbread house in Germany 

As stated previously, Gingerbread houses in Germany originated from Bakers emulating the description from Hansel and Gretel. In Europe and North America, it was already common place to make Gingerbread mould carvings with artistic depictions. So bakers applied their own craft and constructed their ideals of a “fairy tale” house, resulting in what we know today as gingerbread house making. This tradition was most popular during christmas, where a great number of goods were baked from Gingerbread. 

How did the gingerbread house tradition get started?

The tradition of gingerbread house making began with Europeans and Americans baking gingersnap cookies around Christmas. These cookies tend to be decorated with elaborate designs, usually gilded edges with pictures of animals, houses or other architecture. Gingerbread was also a medium for displaying folk art and the news as well. This naturally evolved into the houses that German bakers popularized and became what we know today as the art of making gingerbread houses. 

How were gingerbread houses incorporated into Christmas?

Gingersnap cookies have always been associated with the spirit of Christmas, and as such, it was highly popular to bake a large assortment of ginger products during Christmas. With the concept of gingerbread houses, eventually this tradition merged with the idea of gingerbread houses. And since Christmas is a widely important time in German, the practice would become synonymous with Christmas itself.

gingerbread cookies

Fun Facts about Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread houses are an excellent way to celebrate both creativity and bring in the new year. Below are some fun tidbits about the delicious pieces of artistic flair that both you and the kids can enjoy. 

  • It is said that Gingerbread houses can be traced as far back as Ancient Greece and Egypt.
  • Gingerbread is said to have been invented by a monk to help cure indigestion.
  • It is said that Queen Elizabeth I came up with the concept of the gingerbread man after wanting to present them to visiting officials as gifts.
  • Gingerbread is unique in that it uses honey and molasses as the base sweetner instead of sugar. 
  • In the city of Bergen in Norway, they make an entire city of gingerbread houses annually.
  • It is tradition that unmarried women in England would often eat gingerbread men for good luck in meeting a husband.
  • In Sweden, gingerbread was thought to have brought good luck, and people would use them to make wishes. The word “gingerbread’ derives from the Old French word “gingebras”, meaning “preserved ginger”.
  • While gingerbread houses are widely popular in North America and Europe, it never saw much popularity in the United Kingdoms 
  • The largest gingerbread house in the world is 60 feet by 42 feet and is worth 35 million calories, constructed with 1800 Hershey bars, 1200 feet of twizzlers, 100 pounds of tootsie rolls, 100 whirly pops and thousands of other assorted candies.
  • A doctor once wrote a prescription for gingerbread for the Swedish King to cure his depression
  • Wilton is the largest gingerbread house kit manufacturer in the U.S
  • While the most popular time of year to make gingerbread houses is Christmas, bakers make gingerbread during Halloween and Valentines day.

Whether you are celebrating the holidays or just looking for a fun activity to express your creativity, gingerbread houses are the perfect way to spend your time. So go create a delicious memory today and make a gingerbread house.