#19: Making a Gingerbread House

You’ve decorated your house for the holidays, and it looks great. Ornate nutcracker dolls, Santa mugs, a chimney donned with the most carefully hung stockings. The only element missing in your holiday arsenal is a centerpiece that ties your family room together. Something that really says, “Yes, I’m classy, but I also like doing my own arts and crafts projects.” There’s really only one option: a homemade gingerbread house. It’ll be one of those holiday activities in which every relative can participate, from your little niece to your grandpa. Making a gingerbread house will gather the family together, and at the end of a delightful afternoon of teamwork, you will have a gorgeous monument of togetherness that you can enjoy for weeks to come.

Guess what? You don’t have the professional skills to pull off a gingerbread Versailles. You hold neither a culinary nor architecture degree, both integral backgrounds for pulling off an edible masterpiece. If you lived in a Hallmark movie, this wouldn’t matter. But you live in the real world, which means you’re stuck with your liberal arts background and Sarah McLachlan won’t be singing over a decorating montage. As you bake the gingerbread, you’ll make the frosting, praying that the recipe you found online has the right ratios. It was the first recipe that showed up on Google, so it should work, right? The site had a lot of online dating ads, but that doesn’t mean they got the ingredients wrong. You taste the frosting and it tastes good, but it’s too runny, a terrible consistency for the mortar you need to glue the gingerbread together. After trial and error, you get it thicker, but now it doesn’t taste as good. Whatever, no one’s going to eat this thing.

With all the building supplies now ready, it’s time for construction. You talk through your vision with the contractors (your relatives) and think everyone is on the same page. But as soon as the gingerbread walls go up, it’s clear everyone has different ideas for how best to erect this sugary house. You never agreed to a sunroom or a wrap around porch, but Grandpa wants them, so they have to go in now. And no one on the building crew understands the basic laws of physics. That roof is too heavy if you add candy cane shingles. You can’t make a gumdrop a load-bearing object. Gingerbread can’t bend like that, Aunt Jackie!

You manage to assemble a structure resembling 19th Century tenement housing. But at least it’s something. Now you just have to let it dry and–no, Emma! You can’t eat it! No! Too late. Little Emma’s gnawing on a hunk of chimney and washing it down with some M&M cobblestones. The house was already drafty, but with only three walls, its residents would certainly not survive the winter. Now it’s a race against time to reconstruct it before all the frosting dries. With each sliding Jolly Rancher window pane, tensions rise, and Grandpa gets more vocal on his lack of faith in your handiwork.

Making a beautiful gingerbread house requires a Zen-like state of patience, something hard to achieve with family members around. But the holiday season isn’t about constructing Fallingwater out of cookies; it’s about spending time with family, even if that means arguments over a Laffy Taffy mailbox. More than likely, your “monument of togetherness” will look more like ancient ruins, with only a keen eye able to theorize how it once appeared before it collapsed. But “Togetherness” is the only thing that really matters. The gingerbread house may crumble, but the foundation of your family will remain like a rock. Or, for the sake of the extended metaphor, a jawbreaker.