Gingerbread houses. I tried to get out of making them this year, however forty-three years of tradition is not easily tossed aside. Amidst the protests, I succumbed and began gathering molasses, flour, sugar, and spices. What was I thinking? Did I really believe I could quietly skip the ritual that had been part of the holidays since my oldest could remember, and was now embedded in my grandchildren? Little did I realize the impact of memories created by brown cookie houses held together by gobs of white icing, generously garnished with red and green candy.
My gingerbread house obsession began the first Christmas I was married. Wanting to begin our own traditions, Randy and I decided to decorate a house and then give it away. Each year found our houses becoming more elaborate as our creative juices flowed, adding icicles, stained glass windows, and a surrounding landscape. As our family grew, the children joined in, eventually having their own smaller versions to decorate as they wished. It was easy to make four, five, eventually six houses, but I never saw it coming. We are now up to twenty-nine houses when all the families are together. One has to think carefully before beginning family traditions.
One year I decided to take a short cut and make the houses out of graham crackers. I never heard the end of it. From then on, it was genuine gingerbread, with all the spices. The older designers could tell if I skimped on the ginger and cinnamon, although I never figured out how they knew since the houses were rarely consumed.
As my oldest daughter reassured me of the importance of keeping this tradition alive, I decided to view it differently. Instead of the burden of baking a community of gingerbread houses, I viewed my task as building a community of love. When I constructed each house using royal icing that dried like mortar, I realized I was creating memories that cemented family relationships. And, as I watched my family take twenty minutes or less to adorn their houses, I ceased lamenting the four hours it took to prepare for the long-anticipated event.
Another year of gingerbread houses has come and gone, but I can still smell the soothing aroma of gingerbread in the oven, hear the giggles of children with mouths full of candy, and see joyful faces that are the result of creating original masterpieces. Yes, traditions are work, but they bring generations together and hearts back home.