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How Gingerbread Houses Became a Christmas Tradition

This year, New Yorkers will once again get to experience “home, sweet home” during the holidays.

gingerbread-houseMadison Square Park is bringing back its family-favorite Gingerbread Boulevard, a two-week event featuring a walk-through of life-size gingerbread houses. Attendees can walk inside the houses constructed from ginger bricks and decorated with frosting, peppermint sticks and gum drops, while they sip on hot chocolate to escape the cold.

It seems that no one can turn down a giant-sized gingerbread neighborhood — organizers expect the event to draw at least 350,000 visitors throughout the holiday season. The gingerbread artists at Leckerlee couldn’t help but wonder: When, and where, did the creation of gingerbread houses begin? 

Nuremberg: Building the Foundation

Gingerbread, as we know it today, originated from Medieval European cooking. Nuremberg, Germany (the birthplace of lebkuchen) was recognized as the “Gingerbread Capital of the world” by the 1600s as Medieval bakers turned gingerbread into a craft by shaping the treat into elaborate designs. It became such an elegant art that European royalty prohibited anyone from making gingerbread except specially trained guild members — except during Christmas and Easter, sparking the holiday tradition. 

While gingerbread continued to be a favorite decorated treat throughout Europe, it wasn’t until the 1800s that gingerbread houses were introduced out of the famous fairytale, Hansel and Gretel (see our updated version of our Hansel & Gretel Tin!). The tradition of candy-coated Lebkuchenhaus, the German term for a gingerbread house, eventually made its way to America with the Pennsylvania German immigrants. 

Going Life-Size 

As the gingerbread tradition grew in popularity over the years, many renditions have emerged over the years. The National Gingerbread House Competition in Asheville, NC, showcases some of the most original gingerbread designs from across the nation every year. The “houses” must be 100% edible and 75% gingerbread, but that doesn’t stop artists from whipping up designs like:

  • A nativity scene with three Wise Men
  • The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” album cover rendition
  • Seuss’s “Whoville,” complete with the Grinch

Artists also like to go big: in 2013, a group in Bryan, Texas, set the record for the world’s largest gingerbread house. The 21-foot-high masterpiece spanned the size of a tennis court and required 1,080 ounces of ground ginger to complete — not to mention 7,200 eggs, 7,200 pounds of flour, and 2,925 pounds of brown sugar.

Not sure if you’re ready to take on a life-size gingerbread house? Skip the haus-work and get your fix of gingerbread at Leckerlee. Our hand-baked lebkuchen is baked here in New York City and when combined with our collectible tins, make the perfect holiday gift! Shop now!