It started the year I left for college, when I was homesick and missing my family, particularly The Babies: my oldest niece and nephew who were 4 and 5 at the time and my youngest nephew, only 6 months old when I moved away and whom I felt I had barely gotten to know yet. I missed their baby faces, their baby hugs, their baby voices and I was eager to get home over winter break to hug, hold, and kiss all over them. So when I spied a gingerbread house box kit while out on a quick stop for essentials, I immediately thought “What a great idea to use as bonding time with The Babies”. I scrounged up what sparse funds I had as a broke college kid to scoop up the kit and a few gallons of gas, and off I happily went to rejoin my family.
The gingerbread house was a hit, so much so that I brought it back the following winter break, this time rolling out dough and cutting shapes for gingerbread people. There was more frosting on the floor and candy in mouths more than any actual serious decorating going on, but all in all, it was fun family time spent.
And then somehow, someway, it turned into a “thing”. Every single year, from then on out, I’ve gathered the kids together to do some form of gingerbread decorating together as a family. And as our family has grown and evolved, there have been slight tweakings. Usually it’s gingerbread houses although some years we’ve done cookies, and one year there was even a gingerbread train. Sometimes for convenience we’ve used the ready-made kits, but in more recent years, I’ve moved to baking real gingerbread cakes. A few years we’ve even had extended family and friends join in on the festivities.
The tradition has followed us through several changes of residence and changes to dates as we’ve moved from decorating sometime in December to now doing them during Thanksgiving. But during any given year, it can occur anytime between Thanksgiving week and the end of the year. It’s become so important that when my brother and his children moved several states away and weren’t able to come home one particular year, I ended up stranded in an airport on a blustery winter day, cancelled flight after cancelled flight, clutching my carry-on bag consisting only of a change of clothing, a toothbrush and a gingerbread kit. I finally made it to Atlanta, a full day and a half after I should have been there, with only a few mere hours left on that New Year’s Eve. And so we got to work immediately and stayed up all night decorating, finishing just as the ball dropped, relief washing over me that the year had not closed without our gingerbread tradition realized.
I never imagined when I started this that one day my own children would be at the table. But now Lila and Matthew are fully immersed in the action, excited about their houses, and joyously yelling everyone’s name to come join the fun once I have the table set up.
The once 4- yr- old nephew, now a towering 6’2” 17- year -old likes to complain that he’s too old to participate, and the 13- yr- old nephew will follow his suit in the grumbling and moaning. The nieces, however, are still sweet and amiable and eager to participate. But I know the boys still get a kick out of it too, especially the younger nephew that fancies himself both an artist and a chef. So to the table they go, willingly or not, to help their baby cousins decorate their gingerbread, just as I did with them at that same age years ago, and just as we’ll all do again next year.
A few more from the vault:
And finally, our first family gathering in the new house and our 2014 gingerbread houses: