What It’s All About:
Every year on November 11th, since we can remember, our family has done Gingerbread Day. A day when we all come together to create wonderful memories (and extravagant structures) together. Over the years it has evolved from a small family fun day into a full on event. What started with our family of 6 is now a 23 person extravaganza! It really started to become “something” when the boys came into our lives. All of a sudden there was dremels and power tools and competition!
We have taken our love of Disney and combined it with our love of Christmas. What could be better? This is a wonderful tradition to start with friends or family. Let us show you how. Fun for all ages, this is enjoyable for your youngest kid, your teen, and even for the adults.
The day is structured so that we can build in the morning, break for an easy lunch (like chili in the Crock-Pot), and then decorate in the afternoon. Apple cider is always warm and ready to go on the stove, and we usually have Christmas music playing throughout the home!
Building the Houses:
- Glue guns (1 per person or 1 for two people)
- Hot glue sticks
- Graham crackers
- Cardboard for your base
- Extension cords
Believe it or not, we use hot glue and graham crackers for our structures. I know that sounds strange, and some might even think it’s cheating. Sure, you can make your own gingerbread and create a structure, that’s wonderful. But to be honest, it’s hard, and to make it actually stand up you have to use “construction gingerbread” which isn’t edible… smells good though. Using graham crackers and hot glue makes it simple, fast, and accessible for everyone. You can make pretty much any shape and let your imagination run wild.
For the smallest kids we build a very simple box house structure. As your kids get older you can get more and more creative. Usually by age 4-5 they know a little more of what they want to build and an adult assists them in the building process. By the time our kids hit age 6-8 they are basically pros!
Anytime you are working with hot glue guns you should always supervise small children. Glue gun burns are not fun; stick with a low temp glue gun for kids and always work beside them so you can help out when needed. We use extension cords where we can to help avoid mishaps like tripping over cords or pulling them off the table. My kids are 9 & 12 and have been building houses completely on their own for the last two years with no incidents. You know your child best and what they are capable of managing.
Decorating the Houses:
- Royal icing
- Assorted candy (anything that inspires you)
- Some ideas: Candy Canes, M&M’s, Jujubes, Sprinkles, Pretzels
- Cereal for shingles (we like to use Shredded Wheat and Shreddies)
Decoration options are limitless! Usually this is what makes or breaks your design, but at the end of the day there is no right or wrong way. I am almost always the last person sitting at the table when it comes to decorating because I love the creative details you can add and all the possibilities. Since these houses are non-edible anyways (glue not good!), you can really get creative. My friend just used acrylic paint to decorate her house and it looks awesome!
Royal Icing Recipe:
- 2 egg whites
- 3-4 cups icing sugar
- 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
Whip egg whites until foamy and then add the cream of tartar. Slowly start adding your icing sugar until there are stiff peaks. You may need to add a little bit of water to reach the right consistency. Remember, you want to be able to spread it but for it to hold its shape as well. It should look smooth and glossy but hold stiff peaks. I used pasteurized egg whites which are a great time saver.
We use a royal icing, which hardens like glue. Since these houses are merely decorations, and not to be eaten, this icing firms up good and keeps all those candies stuck in place all season (aside from the occasional child that just can’t contain themselves!). I make roughly one recipe per person. Now, that sounds like a lot, but we use it to cover the cardboard as well. You can colour the icing whatever colours you like, just separate into smaller bowls. This icing dries extremely fast, so work with small amounts at a time and keep the mixing bowl covered with a damp towel.
We usually have a small bowl with two knives in between two people. Prep all your candy ahead of time into bowls in the middle of the table so everyone can grab what they need.
Inspiration for the Houses:
Inspiration can really come from anywhere… sometimes we will pick a theme like Disneyland, or Whoville, or Toontown, or Santa’s Village, and sometimes it’s a free for all. Whatever inspires and speaks to your family works best. You can look on Pinterest or in catalogues of winter villages to discover shapes or ideas that you like. One of the best parts of working with graham crackers is that they are essentially just building blocks.
Yes, Pinterest is great and we’ve often looked at Christmas villages in local store flyers for inspiration as well. Keep in mind that anything circular will naturally be more difficult to build, and the larger the building, the more difficult it is to construct. I often stick to having no more than two graham crackers stacked high before I add the roof.
Recently I’ve really come to realize something. I suck at making houses/structures. So a few years ago, I came to realize that it doesn’t ACTUALLY have to be a gingerbread “house”. Some of my FAVOURITE projects have been vehicles to be honest!
Pro Tips for Gingerbread Day:
FYI, the entire process is messy. Lately we have been building on top of one foot by one foot cardboard squares. When cutting the graham crackers, use an Xacto knife on a cutting board, and always make sure that the hot glue gun is placed on top of cardboard, and not the table.
Another helpful tip we’ve discovered is to use the graham cracker box as the roof (a cereal box or any thin cardboard will work as well), as it is more pliable, and easier to maneuver. The structural integrity of the roof is always better when using the cardboard, as opposed to using glued together graham crackers.
Also, have ice packs on hand. Speaking from experience here… I burn myself EVERY YEAR. Apparently some people never learn!
Buy candy the week after Halloween and save it for the next year. This saves you the “trouble” of wanting to eat all of the candy and is a really affordable option too!
While doing your Christmas baking, set aside some gingerbread men or trees to add to your gingerbread scene!
All good traditions involve food, and for us, it’s usually tied to Disney! We start the day off right with some Mickey gingerbread waffles. I used a mix for the base to keep it simple, but go ahead and use your favourite! Here’s what I did:
Gingerbread Waffle Recipe:
- 2 cups pancake and waffle mix (I like the Krusteaz from Costco)
- 1 1/3 cups soy milk (regular is fine)
- 1/4 cup melted butter (I use Becel)
- 2 tbsp fancy molasses
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp clove
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
Serve these gingerbread waffles with sliced banana and maple syrup. Optional add-on: I chopped up candied ginger to sprinkle on top but it’s not necessary. Another delicious topping is a cranberry compote. I made it the same way I make cranberry sauce but added a little bit of cinnamon, clove and allspice. To drink, we like to have a pot of caramel apple cider on the stove all day. Just put some apple cider on low with a cinnamon stick, some allspice, and cloves. Add 1/2 cup of brown sugar or caramel sauce. Serve with whipped cream and caramel drizzle.
For lunch we like to have chili cheese fries. It’s a go to snack for us in the parks and so easy to make at home. Throw everything into the Crock-Pot the night before and have it ready in the fridge so that all you have to do is plug it in on the day of the event. We have lunch in between building the houses and decorating. When we are ready for lunch we heat up some fries and grate cheese. There is something about cheesy chili fries that just hits me in the feels.
If you enjoyed this activity, check out our post “Christmas Sugar Cookies” for more Holiday fun!
What is a family tradition that you love to do? We’d love to hear from you!
Have a Magical Day!
Erica, Heidi, Elisia and Danielle