Home for the Holidays
The sweet and spicy smell of gingerbread is a clear indicator that the holiday
season is in full swing. By the time Gingerbread House Day arrives on December 12,
you may have already indulged in eating this seasonal treat.
Gingerbread, made with ginger root, is believed to have originated in East Asia,
where ginger was originally cultivated. It is believed that ginger and gingerbread were
introduced to Europe after the Crusades of the 11th century. Gingerbread was
adopted most heartily in Germany, where monks perfected their heart-shaped
These cookies were first made as unleavened honey cakes, made in the same
fashion as communion wafers. With the introduction of ginger, German bakers
transformed lebkuchen into their beloved gingerbread. In 1487, Emperor Friedrich III
presented the 4,000 children of the city of Nuremberg with gingerbread cookies
shaped to his likeness.
The shape of gingerbread was not limited to hearts, faces, and people; miniature
houses made of the cookie were also common. This is why
a gingerbread house figured so prominently in the tale Hansel and Gretel, first
published by German folklorists and brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th
century. What better way for a witch to lure two children into her home than to build a
home out of Germany’s favorite cookie? Through this tale, the Brothers Grimm spread
the popularity of making gingerbread houses beyond Germany.
It may be surprising that one of the most enduring holiday traditions was popularized
by the tale of a witch attempting to eat two children by luring
them into her gingerbread house. But the religious significance of gingerbread has
deeper roots than Hansel and Gretel. Perhaps it stems from
the development of gingerbread by German monks. Or the use of gingerbread in
religious ceremonies. Whatever the reason, warm, spicy gingerbread has become
synonymous with the Christmas season.