null Skip to main content Skip to footer content
Toggle menu

Why Do We Make Gingerbread Houses for Christmas?

You can tell it’s Christmas when kitchens smell like gingerbread. This unique mixture of flour, sugar, molasses and ginger, baked into a variety of shapes, has a long association with Christmas. But why?

To answer that question, we need to explore the history of gingerbread itself.

Where Does Ginger Come From?

Ginger, the signature ingredient in gingerbread, is the root of a plant found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. Ginger was known to the ancient Greeks. European soldiers also brought the spice back with them from the Crusades.

By the Middle Ages, Europeans often used ginger to disguise the taste of preserved meats

What is Gingerbread?

The first ginger cakes were made of breadcrumbs boiled in honey with ginger and other spices. Bakers in Germany created lebkuchen, which were more like the gingerbread cookies we know today. Nuremberg, Germany, became known as the “Gingerbread Capital of the World” and is home to the oldest written gingerbread recipe, dating from the 1500s.

Ginger biscuits known as “fairings” were popular treats at Medieval fairs in France and England and were given as good luck to knights competing in tournaments.

Queen Elizabeth I often is credited with the creation of the first “gingerbread man”. According to Martha Stewart, Elizabeth “had her cooks mold the pastry into the shapes of her favorite courtiers and liked to give VIP guests ginger ‘biscuits’ that were edible caricatures.”

European baking guilds closely guarded their exclusive rights to make gingerbread. Common folk were only allowed to bake it at Christmas and Easter. This regulation, plus ginger’s relative scarcity and expense, would have made gingerbread a rare Christmas treat.

Gingerbread Houses

Although you could find gingerbread shaped into hearts, stars, babies and other figures, stories differ as to when people began making gingerbread houses. Some say the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” which describes a cottage decorated with sweets, inspired the first gingerbread house. Others say it was the custom of creating gingerbread houses that inspired the fabled witch’s house.

The standard gingerbread house consists of a structure with four gingerbread walls and a roof. Gingerbread slabs typically are “glued” together with icing and embellished with entirely edible decorations, including cookies, peppermints, hard candies, gumdrops and chocolates.

While those are the basic requirements, gingerbread houses can be extremely elaborate – and not all of them are houses. Gingerbread constructions also include churches, cabins, castles and many other types of structures.

Whether from scratch or using a gingerbread house kit, many families enjoy making a Christmas gingerbread house together. Furthermore, it isn’t uncommon at Christmas time for organizations and community associations to hold gingerbread house contests, sometimes for charity, encouraging bakers to create intricate gingerbread masterpieces.

Gingerbread Designs

The continued popularity of gingerbread has caused the style to be adopted in other Christmas decorations, including gingerbread Christmas ornaments, gingerbread nutcrackers and tabletop figures.

Shop Christmas Central to view a wide variety of gingerbread Christmas decor for your home.
15 inch lighted LED gingerbread snowman tabletop figure
4.5 inch glittered gingerbread house glass Christmas ornament
25.5 inch LED lighted gingerbread nutcracker standing Christmas figure
10 count LED orange gingerbread men (3.5 inches high) Christmas fairy lights