by Taylor Bennett, age 17
It’s crisp, spicy, and often takes the shape of a miniature girl or boy. What is it? Gingerbread! A favorite treat this time of year, gingerbread is now baked in countless ovens throughout the Christmas season, but its beginnings were surprisingly humble. Originally a root used in Chinese medicine, ginger was brought to Europe via the Silk Road in the Middle Ages. This mysterious, spicy root eventually made its way into hard cookies reminiscent of today’s gingerbread. As gingerbread’s popularity grew, Queen Elizabeth I decided to bestow these cookies as gifts upon dignitaries. Edged in gold leaf and appearing in many different shapes, these cookies became a symbol of wealth and stature. Although gingerbread had a humble beginning as a Chinese root, it was quickly recognized as something more delectable.
As gingerbread grew in popularity, it began to develop its own culture. Known as Gingerbread Fairs, entire festivals were dedicated to the zesty treat. Throughout the different seasons, gingerbread took on distinctive forms. It might resemble flowers in springtime or falling leaves during the autumn months. In the sixteenth century, gingerbread houses began to emerge in Germany. Thanks to a sugary cottage made famous through the Brothers Grimm tale “Hansel and Gretel,” the gingerbread house grew in popularity. After a while it became a classic Christmastime symbol. As a matter of fact, gingerbread can be traced back to America’s first president. It is said that George Washington’s mother was known for turning out soft, fluffy loaves of fresh gingerbread. Supposedly the recipe was lovingly passed down for many generations. Once a cure-all for stomachaches and other pains, then a royal treat, and finally a symbol of Christmastime, gingerbread truly boasts a rich and storied history.
Today, gingerbread is still a beloved treat, as well as a cherished symbol of the holidays. Although they are no longer edged in gold leaf, gingerbread cookies are still decorated by families around the world. Crisp, spicy, and flat, these cookies are easy to decorate and even easier to eat. Gingerbread houses are a sensation. In Texas, a record-breaking gingerbread mansion was constructed at a country club. Remarkably, it was so large that it required a building permit before it could be erected and was nearly 40,000 cubic feet at its completion. No longer a humble root, gingerbread is now a celebrated holiday symbol, one which is prevalent on many treat trays this Christmas season.
Avey, Tori. “The History of Gingerbread.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 20 Dec. 2013,