The Sweet History of Gingerbread Houses

The holiday season is full of smells—cinnamon, peppermint, and, of course, gingerbread. In addition to the smells, are the numerous fun and memorable activities, one of which is building a gingerbread house. Gingerbread and the classic gingerbread house are two main features of the holidays that almost everyone loves to create and eat. But, have you ever wondered where this tradition got started and how it managed to stay in the public eye for so many years?

The use of ginger, the spice, dates back to ancient times. As early as the Middle Ages, gingerbread was sold in specialty shops and seasonal markets in Europe. The spice was baked into shaped cookies and decorated. It was also sold outside churches on Sundays and began to be viewed as a treat for religious holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. Over time, bakers began shaping the gingerbread into molds and carvings of sculptures, cities, and rulers. As for the gingerbread house, historians have stated it first appeared during the 16th century in Germany, following which the Brothers Grimm wrote their fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel.” In this piece, the brothers described two children who were lost in a forest and found an edible house made of bread with sugar decorations. After the book’s publication, the popularity of gingerbread houses grew and traveled across the ocean to the New World with Pennsylvania German colonists.

From there, the love for gingerbread houses continued to spread throughout America and other countries. Today, building competitions and famous house displays have become a part of holiday traditions in the world.

Gingerbread House Building Competitions 

During the Middle Ages in Europe, places such as England and France hosted gingerbread fairs. At these events, gingerbread was made into flowers, birds, animals, and armor. Also, ladies gave their favorite knights pieces of gingerbread as a symbol of good luck or, superstitiously, to improve their chances of finding a husband. Modern-day gingerbread house building competitions share similarities with the fair, with the main commonality being a chance to get together and celebrate the holiday tradition.

Throughout the country, famous competitions take place. One of the most popular contests is located in Asheville, NC, with The Omni Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition. Founded in 1992 by community members, the National Gingerbread House Competition wasn’t supposed to go past a year. However, 27 years later, it is now “one of the nation’s most celebrated and competitive holiday events,” according to the Omni Grove Park Inn’s website. This year the competition will be held on Monday, November 18th, and guests can view the winning piece from November 20th through January 4th at the inn.

Other well-known gingerbread house building competitions are the PPG Place Gingerbread House Display and Competition in Pittsburgh, PA; The Christmas at the Galt House Gingerbread House Contest in Louisville, KY; and the Aurora’s Midwest Gingerbread House Competition in Evansville, IN.

Famous Creations 

If you are looking to start a new tradition by visiting the famous gingerbread houses throughout the country, definitely put these places on your list!

  • The Fairmont Gingerbread House at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, CA.
  • The Gingerbread White House in Washington, D.C.
  • The Gingerbread Mansions of Newport in Newport, RI.
  • The Gingerbread Castles and Carousels at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL, as well as the life-size house at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.
  • Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science in New York, NY.
  • The Westin Austin Downtown in Austin, TX, where you can actually dine in the gingerbread house.

With their longstanding history and well-known creations, gingerbread houses have been and always will be a lovable tradition during Christmastime.


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