Gingerbread House is Where the Heart Is
A gingerbread house is such an iconic symbol of Christmas. It is the perfect activity to bring people together and create something beautiful… that you can eat! If you’re like us, you can’t help but also love peeling back the gingerbread layers of this mysterious structure. Keep on reading and we promise to take the gilt off your gingerbread and expose the delicious cookie underneath. Enjoy!
Roots of the Gingerbread House
There is a whole world of tiny (and giant) gingerbread artwork throughout the world and it stems from a long history of gingerbread as a whole. It’s of course a delicious dessert as well, filled with beautiful spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, pepper, and as the name suggests, ginger! We talk more extensively about the artwork as well as the widespread and vast history in our gingerbread cookie blog. To sum it up, gingerbread has been thoroughly laced into humanity’s history for thousands of years and used for everything from cookies, effigies, and learning tools.
The origin of gingerbread house popularity, however, can be traced back to the early nineteenth century. In 1812, the German Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their iconic story of siblings, Hansel and Gretel, going head to head with a witch after being abandoned and lost in the woods. The Brothers Grimm collected this popular tale from the times of the middle ages when it was a common practice with low classes to leave children behind due to financial hardship. Children were usually left to serve the Church, but in this tale, the kids’ stepmother convinced the father to get rid of them in the woods. In the woods, conveniently, the witch had a house made of gingerbread walls, embedded candies, and everything a child could want. Of course, this was to attract children and eat them. The popularity of the Hansel and Gretel story was what broke the stigma around this dessert. People opened their hearts back up to it in all shapes and forms! And that’s how the gingerbread house became a popular and beloved way to enjoy.
Gingerbread House World Records
Could you believe that this house made of gingerbread could home a family of five? And that’s five real human-sized people, not even gingerbread people! In 2013, the A&M Traditions Club in Texas created this giant structure of gingerbread as a fundraiser to raise money for St. Joseph’s Hospital in Texas. To visit the house, click to see a brief video (2 mins). It was 39,201.8 square feet (~1,110 square meters), had a length of 60 feet(18.28 meters), a width of 42 feet (12.8 meters), and a height of 10.1 feet (3.07 meters). It was so large that it actually required the structure of a real house to be built as a base to account for safety and preservation. The exterior, however, was exclusively gingerbread, icing, and candy. If you were to eat this whole house, you would consume more than thirty-six million calories. At the end of the day, maybe we should not break this record.
Jon Lovitch takes the entire year to create his masterpiece called GingerBread Lane and he is the four-time holder of this Village record. He set the most recent one in New York in 2017 with 1,251 houses made entirely of edible ingredients. The Guinness World Records have very strict standards for this record, so the entire village had to be entirely edible. For many years, the gingerbread village in Bergen, Norway was known as the largest gingerbread village, but they don’t fit the rules of being entirely edible.
Guinness World Records awarded the El Dorado Royale resort (Mexico) as the largest area of gingerbread village
Although GingerBread Lane certainly has the most houses, the El Dorado Royale resort by Karisma in Playa del Carmen, Mexico has the biggest surface area. It has only 216 houses, but it’s 487 square feet and 72 square inches. Many of the gingerbread buildings are exact replicas of buildings in the town of Yucatan Peninsula.
Since 2020, Bailey’s Fine Jewelry in Raleigh, North Carolina has held a gingerbread house competition encouraging individuals, as well as families to put on their gingerbread creativity caps and compete. In 2021, the Jewelry company made headlines when they displayed for sale a gingerbread house worth $1.2 million. The house had a variety of diamonds, pearls, gold, silver, a Rolex watch, and a $95,000 Saphire. Bailey’s apparently had multiple people inquire about purchasing the house and we can’t help but wonder if anyone actually ended up eating the delicious walls…
Extravagant Gingerbread Replica Manors
Maybe not the largest or most expensive, there’s been an impressive trend recently of historical manors commissioning miniature gingerbread versions of their structures. In London, the cookie company, Biscuiteers created a tiny and yet hugely intricate version of the Waddesdon Manor in 2016. The original manor was built in 1874 and has since been sold to the National Trust and can be visited by the public. It’s been the set of many movies and TV shows, including Downton Abbey and The Crown. Both the inside and outside of the manor was recreated for the gingerbread version, including all the art, furniture, and wallpaper. Just 216 kg of icing was used and you can see it in this video (2.49 min).
In 2016, artist Christine McConnell was commissioned to recreate The Mystery Winchester House in California in the US. This mansion was once owned and renovated by Sara Winchester, who was the widow of the firearms mogul of William Wirt Winchester. It’s an enormous house with a lot of architectural curiosities that have lead people to claim it’s the most haunted house in the world. When Christine created her version of the house, she had to use some inedible pieces to keep the structure entact, but it was predominantly made of gingerbread and icing. She even made a bust (sculptural portraits that stop at the neck or chest) of Sara Winchester out of modeling chocolate. The attention to detail is extraordinary. Check out this video to see the incredible 500 lbs replica.
Gingerbread on Display
The artistry of gingerbread is something that has been appreciated by humanity for centuries. It can be traced back in the sixteenth century, when specialized chefs sold their dessert creations at fairs. These chefs became so popular at these festivals that Gingerbread Fairs became their own distinct event. Many of those pastry chefs had their own establishments to create and sell their artwork. The idea of a building dedicated to gingerbread is something that’s followed through into modern-day in the form of museums. Especially in Europe, these museums tend to be situated in cities with strong histories of gingerbread.
The Museum of Toruń Gingerbread in Poland is the most well-known. It’s in the same building as a former gingerbread factory. In Poland, there is a specific type of gingerbread called the Toruń, which is named after the city. The museum has several levels to it, and museum-goers are able to emerse in the history as well as the delicious tastes of gingerbread. Visitors to the museum are typically treated to demonstrations; these involve traditional baking techniques guided by the Gingerbread Master and the Gingerbread Witch! You get to see how Toruń is made, and even have the chance to make it yourself and bring your creation home.
There are an infinite amount of structures that can be made out of gingerbread and be put on display. Of course, there’s the standard house, but you can also find castles, stadiums, boats, and even vehicles. The bigger the idea, the better! And so many times, those eye-catching, record-breaking structures are made in the effort of raising money and social awareness. When it comes to the gingerbread house, there’s certainly a special and pertinent opportunity there to make a difference in the world.
Houselessness in Canada
The idea of a gingerbread house is a popular metaphor for campaigns around the winter holidays to raise awareness for houselessness. In 2021, Adsum for Women and Children commissioned an ad campaign that used the representation of gingerbread houses to draw attention towards houselessness Their goal was to promote and encourage donations to provide warmth and safety for houseless individuals by “selling” fake gingerbread kits for bus shelters, park benches, and cardboard boxes. And in the same year, Mutual Aid made a gingerbread kit packed with a story book educating youth on understanding and holding empathy for houseless individuals. This book helped fight widespread issues of stigmas and misunderstandings around the experiences and causes of becoming houseless.
One way of clearing the stigma is using intentional choice of words. The use of “houseless” versus “homeless” has been proposed as an effort to make people think more about their perception of the people they walk by everyday and humanize them. Plus, a house isn’t necessarily a home and someone can have a home without a physical structure. Houselessness is a temporary circumstance and should not inflict on the person. Society’s perception of this circumstance rife with dehumanization and misunderstandings.
There is an array of reasons someone may become houseless that look different for every person.
Some situations leading to houselessness in Canada include:
- With the rising housing and rent prices, many people exist in insecure housing environments where one change in their financial situation can mean becoming houseless. That change could be an unexpected health bill, increased rent, reduced hours at work, and a miriad of other things.
- People can also find themselves with unsafe home lives which is especially the case for women, LGBTQ2IA+ youth, and the elderly.
- Racial discrimination, transgenerational poverty, and the intergenerational effects of colonization are huge factors that can make it extremely difficult to attain and maintain housing.
- Mental health and addiction are more common in people experiencing houselessnes than the general population, but it it is not necessarily always a reason. It can be both a cause and effect of houselessness.
In 2021, more than 235,000 people experienced houselessness in Canada with 25,000 to 35,000 people per night. And it isn’t even possible for these numbers to be entirely accurate because they don’t include people who sought shelter with friends and family temporarily.
What Does the Canadian Government Do?
In 1948, the United Nations tabled a Universal Declaration of Human Rights that includes the right for adequet housing. On June 21, 2019 the Governor General signed into law Bill C-97, which contained the “National Housing Strategy Act”, and the federal right to housing legislation. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) goal is that by 2030, everyone in Canada has a home that they can afford and that meets their needs. The Canadian National Housing Strategy will invest $72+ billion, hoping to reach the following results over the next 10 years:
- Cut chronic homelessness in half
- Remove 530,000 families from housing need
- Invest in the construction of up to 160,000 new affordable homes
Reaching Home is a community-based program aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness by providing direct support and funding to Designated Communities (urban centres), Indigenous communities, territorial communities and rural and remote communities across Canada.
Canada’s houselessness situation is dramatically better than that of other nations. At the top of the list of houselessness is Nigeria and as part of the top 10, you can find the US and Germany, two western countries that emphasize capitalism over socialism.
Some Challenges Ahead
While the National Housing Strategy Act and the Canadian National Housing Strategy are initiatives on the right direction, there are few foreseeable challenges that need to be taken into consideration:
- The National Housing Strategy Act is a federal statute, and therefore it does not apply to provincial, territorial, Indigenous, or municipal jurisdiction
- The legislation contains no specific mechanisms for individuals to seek out access to adequate housing, the right is just a collective public right
- The National Housing Strategy Act is not a constitutional provision, and therefore in theory, the legislation could be revoked by a future government.
- While the Canadian courts have rejected homelessness as a ground of discrimination in Canadian constitutional law, there are specific regulations that discriminate or make houseless lives more difficult. Here are a few examples:
- Reducing the number of sitting areas in public spaces.
- Installing bolts and spikes in flat surfaces in order to make sleeping on them uncomfortable.
- Installing dividers on metal benches to prevent sleeping.
- Metal teeth and bars on ledges to prevent sitting.
- Boulders placed in parks to prevent homeless encampments.
What Can The Government Do Better for Houseless People?
In order to resolve the houselessness for the long-term, we suggest all levels of government (federal, provincial, municipal, territorial, and Indiginous) accept the following guiding rules:
- Resolve housing right first and then address recovery
- Build various recovery support programs based on different houseless orientation
- Personalize the offer, support and services to better address the individual houseless needs
- Invest in social and community integration with a key person responsible to follow-up and guide them how to succeed maintaining a protective house and avoiding falling back into houseless status
It may feel a bit hopeless when there are such institutional issues that impact individuals. But there are always things we can do as individuals to help:
- Volunteering is crucial year-round, but especially around the holidays, you can take advantage of days off and make it a family activity.
- Donate to local shelters and organizations. Make sure to look into non-perishable items that are in great need. Also, packaged new socks and underwear are great options. Toiletries, feminine hygiene, and dry baby products are needed as well. If you can afford more, cold-weather clothing is crucial, and you can even organize a knitting drive for hats and mittens.
- Go online to see if there are any current local fundraisers or campaigns going on that you can support. If not, you can see if there are people you can gather to organize one yourself!
- Research politicians who align with your thoughts and desires for reducing houselessness in your community. And vote!
- Create cards of local resources to hand out to houseless people you think may benefit from them. These resources can include shelters, organizations that help with employment and housing, and mental health and addiction support.
- Looking into if there is a safe local number of social services or houseless-oriented communities you can call instead of the police when required. Obviously, if the safety of any person is an issue, 911 is the best option. But if someone seems in mental distress, the police may not be the safest option for them. You can search for terms like “Homeless Outreach Hotline” or “Crisis Intervention Team” to keep with you if such a moment arises.
- Learn about the experience of and solutions for houselessness and combat our personal prejudice. There are a huge amount of stereotypes and misconceptions about houseless individuals that can create disrespectful attitudes towards them and fear. Once you learn more, you can have honest and empathetic conversations that help de-stigmatize and humanize this experience for others in your network as well.
The beginning of winter can be such a special time to spend with the people you care about. And that includes people in our communities, even the ones we’ve maybe never even talked to. If you’re looking to use gingerbread as a fundraising tool this holiday, or you’re just craving it for yourself, you can use Dessert Advisor’s search tool to find a gingerbread house near you. Have a happy and safe holiday season!