~Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.~
I make gingerbread houses.
Every year for the past 26 years I've made them.
It all started when I was asked to bake the parts for 7 houses which would be put together by a team of people who were all part of a fund raiser. I did pretty well for a first try. So I watched how to put them together and then got creative decorating them. Then I started giving them as gifts all wrapped in stiff, clear cellophane and cascading ribbons.
I loved watching the faces of children as I walked down the school corridors to deliver them to my childrens' teachers. Their eyes got big and they'd ask,
"Can you eat them?"
To me, gingerbread houses symbolize everything good about childhood. They give children permission to dream and to step into a world of fantasy for a bit.
My mother brought one to an office party in Boston one year and then the orders started coming in! Now, if I'm in the mood I make enough to sell and to give as gifts. I'm telling you there's NOTHING like a homemade gingerbread house for someone who has everything or is impossible to shop for. Believe me. I've been doing this for years, and no matter what the economy, people buy them.
"And I had but one penny in the world. Thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread."
~ William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost
Early in October I start planning and preparing for the chaos of the never-ending gingerbread house baking and juggling (it never fails that the littlest children steal a chimney, a window shutter, or a bush here and there). Even if I wrap them I've found missing pieces. Well, I don't find them. But you can tell they're gone!
For weeks our house smells so good! And there are always scraps of discarded edges in a bowl on the counter. After a while I'll put the scraps in a blender and pulverize them into gingerbread house crumbs to line pies, and cheesecakes. My girls make those.
My children love to decorate their own house every year. Sometimes they eat more candy than goes on the house! I guess that's part of the appeal and the fun of it.
One year I made a huge house and left one side of the roof loose so that I could hide chocolate oranges (another Christmas tradition) inside for Christmas morning. Then I cemented it shut and hung a note on the chimney to "Look Inside!" The kids couldn't figure out how they fit through the door.
I don't know if we'll make houses this year. I know the recipe by heart so even if we're still unpacking from our move, I know I can pull it together.
I asked Kelley (17) what she likes about making the houses. She said, "It's just a feeling. Tradition. I like decorating them." When asked if she'd continue the tradition when she has a family of her own she said, "Of course! It's what I know. It means Christmas is coming."
- Do you bake anything special (or remember something from your childhood) for the holidays that you'd consider a tradition?