Now that December is here, I can fully embrace Christmas. It always feels so odd to pull out the holiday decorations before the Thanksgiving turkey has been eaten—perhaps sacrilegious is a better word for it. But once the leftovers are eaten and I flip the calendar to the 31 jam-packed days of December, it’s time to get in that holiday spirit.
Our Christmas celebrating begins with the annual arrival of Charlie, our Elf on the Shelf, a trend I succumbed to three years ago and one that I curse every night I wake up in a panic when I realize I haven’t moved Charlie to a new location (oh, wait, until I realize Charlie hasn’t moved). The kids ask about him weeks before he’s due to arrive (he comes every December 1), and they tell stories about Charlie to one another and to me (“Mama, remember when the Christmas tree fell on top of Charlie? And, you had to touch him? Did you take away his magic when you touched him?”). Charlie works wonders with the kids, though. Lately, I’ve brought him up in conversation frequently, most often when they don’t listen to my multiple entreaties to put on their shoes in the morning. (“Put. On. Your. Shoes” has become the phrase I say most often, but that is another blog post.)
This year, I decided to kick start our holidays with what I hope will be a new tradition: making a gingerbread house. It just seemed like such a great thing to do with the kids, and the genius of it is that we could use the still uneaten Halloween candy as decoration.
My first step was to—smartly—decide that baking gingerbread for the house’s construction was not the direction I wanted to go in. I did this despite really liking to bake. Maybe once we’ve firmly established gingerbread house construction as a family tradition, I will give that a try, but, for this first year, I wanted a fairly easy approach. So, I purchased, for $17.99 plus tax, a Dancing Deer gingerbread kit at Whole Foods. Dancing Deer is a Massachusetts-based company that makes delicious cookies, brownies, and other treats. I have used them to send holiday gifts to friends and family and they are always a hit.
The kit comes in a house-shaped box, which is the base of the to-be-built gingerbread house, and is filled with cookies of various shapes, including circles, squares, and gingerbread men. The kit also comes with just-add-water icing, which, thankfully, tastes pretty bland. If I had, I might have eaten it all up (I love icing).
The kids were very excited about the gingerbread house; OK, really they were excited about eating the cookies, of which there are more than enough for eating and decorating. They lost interest when we discovered the directions didn’t exactly work for us. You’re supposed to use the icing to adhere the cookie to the base, holding it on for 10-20 seconds as it dries. But, it actually takes much long than 10-20 seconds for the cookies to hold—more like 30 minutes. My husband and I spent most of our early house building pushing the cookies back into place, as they slid down the sides of the house and off the roof. Once I laid the house on its side and let the cookies rest in the icing for about a half hour, they stuck. I repeated this over and over for each side of the house and the roof. By then, the kids had long gone to bed, but the next morning, the finished house enthralled them. “It smells so good,” my daughter said over and over. And, it does. That gingerbread smell has been wafting through our kitchen for almost a week now, and it’s a wonderful reminder that Christmas is almost here!
As for that leftover Halloween candy, we used M&Ms (peanut and plain) for edging, a Kit-Kat bar for the house’s “door,” and a Nestle bar for a back window. Our house is by no means fancy; in fact, you can tell by the photos above that some of our “tiles” are askew. Our house’s appeal is that it was made with love, not Martha Stewart-worthy crafting skills, which this blogger is definitely lacking.
My kids asked who lives inside our gingerbread house, and I answered that a very happy family does. They liked that explanation, and I do, too.