Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Holiday Traditions

~Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.~
Susan Lieberman

This is NOT my house! But I do think it's beautiful!

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?


  1. Hi Betsy,
    I've never made a gingerbread house! I love how you did it with your kids while they were small and how it's become a Christmas tradition they will carry on.
    Maybe that's something to look forward to later, when I'm a grandmother! :o
    We have a tradition we call "Tree Day" - the official kick-off of our Christmas holiday. To prepare for it, I purchase exotic cheese, smoked oysters, olives, pates and crackers, Port and cranberry juice and sprite. (well, now more Port than pop and juice!) We take our time decorating the tree while enjoying our hors d'oeurves. This tradition started on our first Christmas when I was napping while my husband finished building the wooden manger for the ceramic pieces my Mom had made for us. When I awoke, there was a TV tray in front of me filled with snacks and cranberry juice and pop in pewter wine glasses. (I was expecting our first child). We have carried on the tradition to today and even now will schedule "Tree Day" as soon as we know when the kids will arrive home for Christmas.
    Thanks for getting me thinking about this now! My daughter emailed yesterday to say she'd choosing her dates and booking her flight! And it begins!

  2. I'm wondering how early in the season you start? Because if you use a live tree it could get old before Christmas! LOL! Every year it seems to creep up sooner. I love the holidays. My kids love decorating, too. They do most of it. Your husband's a great guy doing that for you!! Such a simple tradition, and I love it!

  3. We do a live tree LOL but we don't do Tree Day until close to Christmas, on or around the 18th, OR when both the kids are home. I may bring up the decorations and decorate the house before then. Like December 1st ;-)

  4. What a wonderful tradition! I've never made a gingerbread house, but I love that it is something that you can involve the whole family, even if that does lead to missing structural elements!

    My family has very standard Thanksgiving/ Christmas fare. I remember one holiday when I was little when we had candy canes decorating the tree, which was very bare by the time Christmas came around!

    Most of what makes the holiday season special for me now are the traditions I have created for myself. I spend the month of November writing letters inside each holiday card I send, and I drop the whole lot in the mail the day after Thanksgiving (after returning from Black Friday shopping with my mom and sister). I also love that a friend and I get together each year and watch "Love Actually".

  5. Hi Tammy,
    I'll have to take a look at that movie! And the candy canes on the tree...that's what would happen at my house!! And I'm going to add that I love your tradition of the hand written letters/notes inside of your cards. There's nothing better! It's wonderful that you take the time to do that!

  6. Gingerbread house trumps Fruitcake hands down....just sayin'......

    Sounds yummy.....

  7. I hear that the older you get the more appealing fruitcake gets!

  8. Oh Betsy, I love this post!!! I can smell your treasures through the wires!! :) What a neat, neat tradition for your children and family! It brings a smile to my face just thinking about it!

    We have the tradition of decorating for Christmas the weekend of Thanksgiving, which we love. We also have the tradition of baking countless numbers of a variety of Christmas cookies and delivering around the neighborhood. It takes several days to do and it quite a yummy task for sure! Eve is now at a point where she's such a help and get very involved. Plus, our neighbors say they look forward to this day all year! :)

    I'm fascinated with gingerbread houses and have such an envy of those who make them well! I do a mean gingerbread cookie and that's the extent of it.

    Such a wonderful post Betsy - now you have me totally in the holiday spirit! YAY! Thank you!!



  9. Thanks Elena!
    If you want the recipe and template for the house I'll send it. They are really easy to make. Just let me know.
    And one of my other favorite things is receiving cookies around the holidays. Two years ago we found a box of10 dozen cookies on our doorstep (one dozen for each person in the family. My oldest had moved away). What a perfect surprise it was! I love homemade gifts.

  10. What a beautiful gesture Betsy - your offer and the cookies on the doorstep (I love this!!). I'll let you know for sure ... I'll test to see if I'm up for it! ;)

    Thank you my friend!

  11. Betsy, aloha. Love this story and the tradition. Since I love the smell of gingerbread, I can well imagine how delicious your home must smell.

    Though I have never made a gingerbread house, I have definitely eaten my share of gingerbread. In fact, I must make sure I consume some this week.

    Do post a picture of one of the houses you make this year so we can enjoy it.

    What a delightful surprise that must have been to open the door and see the cookies. Now that's my kind of surprise. Aloha. Janet


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