Tennessee Mountain Stories

Gingerbread houses and other Christmas Decorations

Christmas time is a great opportunity for crafting and creating homemade treasures.  My children made a gingerbread house this week.  Now, it was just from a kit and was super easy because the actual gingerbread was already made and perfectly formed with right angles and everything.  But it did get me to wondering what is the history of making and decorating gingerbread in the shape of houses and such?

Turns out this tradition of adorning gingerbread houses is very old and comes from the same country that tradition says gave us the Christmas tree – Germany.  According to Wikipedia, in the 1600’s in Nuremberg, Germany the baker’s guild used both master bakers and skilled craftsmen to “create complicated works of art from gingerbread.” The racing gingerbread man is a little older, dating to the 15th century.  European’s took their gingerbread-making pretty seriously, forbidding anyone except the professionals from baking it except at Christmas and Easter in the 17th century.  They were given as gifts to both children and adults, particularly at weddings where guests might each receive a figurine.

World's lagest Gingerbread House in Bryan, TX

World's lagest Gingerbread House in Bryan, TX

I also got to thinking about decorations historically.  Today we love brightly colored electric lights – you can even have flame-less and wireless candles these days.  Big displays can be remote controlled and lights can be projected in intricate shapes on high points.  (Just as an aside, we went to view a light display in town and there were tons of lights way high in the trees. I kept asking, how did they get them up there?  Well, they didn’t – they were projected up there!)

However, in the not very distant past, Christmas baubles were a luxury most on the mountain couldn’t indulge in.  But this holiday started in the humblest of locations – an animal stable with a babe lain in a manger.  It stands to reason God would provide options to adorn the holiday.  Holly with red berries is one of the cheeriest sights in a winter landscape and as I mentioned above the Germans really developed our modern tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas back in the 1500’s when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.  This was largely a tradition of Protestant Germansand one that immigrated with them.  However, by the mid-1800’s the noblemen of Europe had embraced the tradition and Christmas tress could be seen from Austria to France and the young Princess Victoria wrote about them in her 1832 diary.  Marrying her German cousin, Albert, no doubt helped to further establish this tradition among the English.  Godey’s Lady’s Book even featured an image of Queen Victoria and her family around their Christmas tree.

Those early trees were decorated with sugar-ornaments, fruit and nuts.  Not until the mid-1800’s did German entrepreneurs begin making glass, paper and tin ornaments for the trees.  That idea caught on fast and by the end of the century the decorations were being exported to America.  By 1890 Woolworths was selling $25 million worth of them – and that was at a five and dime.

So the Son of God came to earth as a baby over two thousand years ago.  But the traditions most of us will observe this weekend are only about two hundred years old.   

I hope you have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS.