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Run, Run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!

from a 19th century folk tale

Enjoy the fun and celebration of National Gingerbread Day, whether in the form of gingerbread men, gingerbread houses – or both! Learn more about the history and delight of this traditional baked treat.

History of National Gingerbread Day

Many people now enjoy gingerbread as a tradition around the holiday season, making them into houses or cookies in a variety of shapes. But their origination was actually several hundred years ago–when their recipe actually contained bread!

The evolution of gingerbread likely began sometime in the 15th century when people used to grate pieces of stale bread, then mix them with spices and honey to create a sweet treat. Once ginger was added to the recipe, the name “gingerbread” began its use.

Gingerbread had been around for quite some time before they were made into cookies shaped like men. The story goes that this happened in the 16th century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, when the queen had her cooks create gingerbread cookies made into figures resembling the royal guests and courtiers who attended her party.

By the 1600s, the honey in the recipes eventually was traded for molasses, a thick, sticky paste-like substance. Molasses, sometimes called treacle, was a bit easier to source than honey, as it is a byproduct of the production process of sugar beets and sugar cane.

Molasses is also the ingredient that gives the brown sugar its unique flavor. And most gingerbread recipes today include brown sugar and molasses on their ingredients list.

It is likely that the making of gingerbread houses began in the 16th century, and some people think they may have started in Germany. These elaborate house were cut into shapes, made into houses and then elaborately decorated with gold leaf and foil to make them stand out as a special treat during the winter, eventually becoming a Christmas tradition.

Gingerbread houses became even more popular with the telling of the Brothers’ Grimm story, Hansel and Gretel, which featured a house made of treats. This may have been when people started adding candies to their gingerbread houses to decorate them.

By the late 19th century, the folk tale called The Gingerbread Man, also called The Gingerbread Boy, was written. This repetitive, rhyming poem appeared in print in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1875.

National Gingerbread Day Timeline

15th Century

Gingerbread recipe without ginger 

Probably a predecessor to gingerbread, this recipe contains some spices and honey and uses grated pieces of bread for its substance–but no ginger.[1]

17th Century

Honey is replaced with molasses 

With its dark and sticky paste-like consistency, molasses (also known as treacle) becomes more available as an ideal complement to the spices in gingerbread.[2]

1796

First cookbook published by an American contains gingerbread

Proudly containing a recipe for gingerbread, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons is published.[3]

1812

Century Brothers Grimm write Hansel & Gretel 

With a house made from sweets in this fairy tale, who could resist mimicking the story and trying to make their own gingerbread house?[4]

2013

Guinness record for largest gingerbread house 

Erected in Bryan, Texas, USA, this gingerbread house is 60 feet long, 42 feet wide and over 10 feet tall.[5]

How to Celebrate National Gingerbread Day

National Gingerbread Day can be observed and celebrated in a variety of ways, many of which include baking and, of course, eating, this delicious dessert! Try out some of these ideas for celebrating:

Try Making Gingerbread Cookies

Cut them out in the shape of gingerbread men (and women, of course!), or roll the dough into larger pieces to fashion a house! It can be loads of fun to make gingerbread cookies and the recipes are typically fairly simple.

Even more exciting, though, is the opportunity for decorating gingerbread. Of course, the basic essentials of frosting and piping bags come first, but it doesn’t have to stop there! Get creative with different types of embellishments including various candies in a multitude of colors.

Even better, channel that inner Queen Elizabeth I and attempt to make gingerbread cookies that are decorated to resemble friends or family members, then reveal them at a delightful National Gingerbread Day party.

Host a National Gingerbread Day Party

For those who are looking for just about any excuse to host a party, National Gingerbread Day is a unique reason to gather friends and neighbors together. Decorate the party room with various gingerbread themed items and serve gingerbread cookies as snacks.

A fun activity for the evening could be baking gingerbread together. Or, have the pieces pre-baked and then provide the supplies so that everyone can decorate gingerbread together.

Learn Fun Facts for National Gingerbread Day

Friends or coworkers might be surprised to hear about National Gingerbread Day. So, when they are told, it would be fun to also be able to share with them some fun and interesting bits of trivia surrounding the world of gingerbread.

Get started with some of these bits of information:

  • The word “ginger” in English may have originated from Sanskrit with the word “sringavera” (which means “horn body”). From here, the word became the Latin “gingiber” and eventually “gingebre” in Old English.

  • Ginger, which is the spice from which gingerbread gets its name, originally came from China and found its way to Europe through the Silk Road, likely from the adventures and travels of Marco Polo in the 13th century.

  • Young women who wanted to marry the man of their dreams would ask a folk medicine practitioner to create a gingerbread man for them. The story goes that the man would fall in love with her–if only she could get him to eat the gingerbread.

Hold a Gingerbread Baking Competition

In honor of National Gingerbread Day, a fun idea for work or school might be to hold a bake-off to see who can make the best gingerbread cookies. Perhaps the gingerbread could be judged in a variety of different categories, based on how it tastes as well as how nicely it is decorated.

Create Gingerbread Themed Crafts

Kids at school or at camp love to create crafts and activities based on themes, and National Gingerbread Day is a fun one to participate in. Perhaps use construction paper to create gingerbread men and women into a version of “paper dolls”. Then, get creative by making different clothing, outfits and accessories for them to wear.

Gingerbread men can also be cut out from felt and sewn together to make dolls. Use colorful felt scraps to “decorate” the gingerbread men and women, and then add accessories such as ribbon bows, buttons, bow ties and more.

Make Gingerbread Ornaments

For a fun and easy craft that can also be a decoration, use gingerbread cookie dough to bake gingerbread men, but poke a hole in the top before baking. After baking and cooling, it can be decorated with paint or glitter glue. Then, when it is finished drying, tie a ribbon through the hole in the top and use it as an ornament or decoration.

National Gingerbread Day FAQs

Can gingerbread be frozen?

Freezing is a great way to preserve gingerbread, either as raw dough or baked cookies. Simply wrap in air-tight plastic wrap and store for approximately 6-8 months in the freezer.[1]

Do gingerbread cookies have ginger?

Gingerbread does contain ginger, as well as other spices such as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise and cardamom.[2]

Who made the first gingerbread man?

It is rumored that the first gingerbread men were presented by Queen Elizabeth to visiting dignitaries and the cookies were made in their own likeness.[3]

How did gingerbread houses become popular?

The Hansel and Gretel story by the Brothers Grimm in the 17th century may have increased the popularity of gingerbread houses.[4]

How to make gingerbread?

Gingerbread is made with flour, butter, spices, egg, molasses, salt, vanilla extract and brown sugar.[5]

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