With Thanksgiving past, almost everyone can agree it’s officially the Christmas season. With that comes all of the magical sights and sounds (and smells) we associate with Christmas. Many Christmas traditions date back so far, we’re not entirely sure where they came from or why they’re associated with Christmas.
Being the self-professed food lovers that we are, we thought we’d take a deeper look at one of Christmas’s most prominent edibles.
No, we’re not talking about the infamous fruitcake. We’re talking about gingerbread.
The History of Gingerbread and Gingerbread Houses
Today, gingerbread and gingerbread houses are largely associated with Christmas, but that wasn’t always the case. While Christmas has been celebrated for nearly 2000 years, gingerbread is even older, appearing as far back as ancient Greece and ancient Egypt.
Because of ginger’s stomach soothing properties, it was often used for medicinal purposes.
Gingerbread men began showing up during England’s Tudor period. The first documented appearance involved Queen Elizabeth the I, who had them baked in the likeness of prestigious guests.
The exact origin of gingerbread houses isn’t clear, but their popularity surged thanks to the Brothers Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel.
So how exactly did all of these gingerbread creations become associated with Christmas?
Christmas and Gingerbread
The marriage of Christmas and gingerbread didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t necessarily happen for one specific reason.
Once upon a time, gingerbread bakers were part of a baking guild that dictated who was allowed to bake gingerbread, and when they were allowed to make it. True gingerbread bakers could bake and sell gingerbread throughout the year, while everyone else was limited to two days a year:
Easter and Christmas.
Thus, Europeans began to associate gingerbread with religious holidays.
Soon, gingerbread shaping became popular. Bakers would make gingerbread shaped as hearts, stars, animals, and more. They would also be extravagantly decorated. In the winter months, Europeans would dip decorated gingerbread into wine and hang them from the trees.
This tradition continued over into colonial America as Germanic immigrants arrived.
There is also a medieval legend that tells of a fourth wise men or magi who was unable to finish the journey to see Jesus as a baby. While the other wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, this fourth magi was bringing ginger.
Falling ill during the journey, he was cared for by a Rabbi. This rabbi told him how the messiah had been prophesied to be born in Bethlehem, which literally means “house of bread” in Hebrew. The students of this rabbi would build bread houses as a reminder of this prophecy.
The magi then took his ginger roots he had and ground them into bread, making gingerbread. From this, he built a house out of it.
Though gingerbread was already associated with Christmas by the time Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” debuted in the late 1800s, the popular ballet certainly helped cement gingerbread’s Christmas legacy.
While gingerbread remains a popular Christmas tradition, it’s more likely to appear as part of the decoration than it is on a serving tray. So, what do you serve your guests during your holiday parties?
From main courses to deserts and everything in between, Rudy’s is here for your personal or corporate event catering needs. Contact us today!