A few years ago, we received a huge gingerbread house from friends during the Christmas season. I had recently undergone surgery and certainly appreciated the casseroles brought by ward members as I recovered. But the gingerbread house (or castle—it covered our entire dining room table) made me, and my children, smile. That sweet, unexpected gift lifted our spirits during a trying time. Our friends confessed to us that the gingerbread house was an annual tradition that had somehow grown over the years.
Since then, we’ve developed our own tradition based on that kind gesture. In early December, we invite friends over for a gingerbread decorating party. We pre-assemble the houses and ask each person to bring a bag of candy to share. We take an hour or two to decorate the houses, talk and have snacks. The children work carefully, making fences out of pretzel sticks and roofs out of small candies. I’m always surprised by the creativity that emerges. No two gingerbread houses are alike.
Once the decorating is complete, we photograph the houses and pack them carefully into boxes. Then we deliver them to someone in need of a little holiday cheer. Sometimes we visit families in the ward. Other years, we visit neighbors or shut-ins. We’ve even visited local hospitals and retirement homes. No matter where we go, the responses are always the same. Adults and children alike are delighted to receive the gift of a gingerbread house—such a simple thing, really, that brings so much pleasure.
Make the gingerbread houses a day or two ahead of time, using royal icing. The royal icing hardens to a cement-like consistency.
Cover a large table with butcher paper or tablecloths to control the mess. Place the candies in bowls for easy access and make several batches of royal icing. Keep it covered and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it, because it dries out quickly.
Fragile gingerbread houses easily break. Reinforce them for young children. Use frosting to attach graham crackers or real gingerbread panels to a small milk carton. Attach the bottom of the milk carton to a clean paper plate or tray.
Several companies make gingerbread house molds, which will simplify your work considerably. Additionally, many bakeries make gingerbread houses ready to be decorated. Pre-order them if you need more than one or two.
Children under the age of 10 may find it difficult to give away their beautiful creations. When working with young children, make a group gingerbread house to give away and allow each child to make a smaller one to take home.
Call ahead of time and get permission before delivering gingerbread houses to an organization, hospital or retirement home.
Try this activity for a family home evening activity or for a mutual, scouts, or activity day party.
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