The History of Gingerbread Houses

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There’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh gingerbread baking in the oven to signal the official start of the Christmas season! From festive gingerbread men to decked-out houses, the tasty treat of gingerbread has evolved into a decorating staple of the Christmas season. Whether you’re a make-it-from-scratch gingerbread purist, or you prefer to buy the kit and get straight to the decorating, odds are your Christmas season is influenced by this sweet treat. But where did we get this tradition and how did it come to be associated with the Christmas holiday? We’re taking a look back on the history of gingerbread for all the sweet and sugary details on how the beloved tradition got its start.

Gingerbread cookies houses history blog post

Ginger itself traces its roots all the way back to China where it was used for medical treatments. Through the Middle Ages ginger was used as a spice in cooking and baking. The first known recipe for gingerbread that resembles what we know it as today came from Greece in 2400 BC. Ginger cookies soon appeared in various cultures with decorations of gold leaves or flowers adorning them.

We see the first appearance of a gingerbread “house” in Germany during the 16th century. Around the same time, the Brothers Grimm wrote the famous Hansel and Gretel story detailing two children who stumble upon a witch living in a house constructed entirely out of cake, candy, and other sweets. It’s unclear whether the story preceded the gingerbread house trend or vice versa, but either way, the tale stuck and so did the sweet treat!

Hansel and Gretel book gingerbread house history brothers grimm

Soon after, the gingerbread house became associated with the Christmas traditions due to the connection of religious ceremonies and gingerbread. A fun fact about gingerbread cookies? They made their first appearance in American culture as a way to sway voters in elections! English colonists brought gingerbread cookies over to the colonies and reportedly used the sweet cookies in an attempt to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over the other. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, even featured three different recipes for gingerbread. Who knew that this confectionary treat held so much history underneath its sweet surface!

American Cookery book Amelia Simmons gingerbread house cookie history

So this Christmas season when you break out your gingerbread house kit for a decorating party, you’ll have an extensive knowledge of all the years of history and details that went into building the little candy home! The magic of the Christmas season can be encompassed with a gingerbread ornament as well. From a gingerbread cottage (Christopher Radko Home for the Holidays Candy Cottage Christmas Ornament) to a an adorable gingerbread man (Christopher Radko Sweetest Chef Around Little Gem Christmas Ornament), the joy of a gingerbread house can live on long after the delicious treat is gone with a gingerbread Radko ornament! Happy decorating!

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