Gingerbread has been around for a looong time. We’re talking way, way back to the days of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, where it took on a different form and meaning than it has today. Back then it was used for religious practices, baking the tough bread into various shapes and symbols of their culture’s religion. Later in 992, when an Armenian monk brought the idea over to Europe, people began baking gingerbread there in the shapes of saints and other Christian symbols. But it wasn’t until the 17th Century that gingerbread became related to the Christmas season.
There was a gingerbread guild (yes, there was, isn’t that fun?) who would bake this desert into special designs like works of art for the royalty. Gingerbread was considered sacred and something not fit for common folk during the year, but around Christmas and Easter time (Christian holidays) commoners were then allowed to eat the delicious desert as part of the religious feasts. In other words, the majority of people in Europe didn’t get to eat gingerbread except during these two holidays.
The idea of gingerbread “houses” came along hundreds of years later. And can you guess how? It was all because of the Brothers’ Grimm fairytale Hansel and Gretel! People loved the idea of an edible house like the witch in the story had, and gingerbread was the perfect food for building. This tradition began in Germany, hence why gingerbread houses remind you of a quaint German town.
Variations of “The Gingerbread Man” Tale
This is an old favorite American tale about a gingerbread man who suddenly comes alive and runs away from the old woman who’d baked him. He laughs and taunts that no one can catch him, and he grows very proud of his ability to escape the various people and animals who try to catch him throughout the tale. But in the end, he gets tricked by a sly fox and eaten.
It turns out that there are many different versions of this tale from other countries, such as Kolobok from Russia: a ball of bread dough who avoids being eaten by various animals, cunningly escaping and singing a song as he does: “I got away from Grandmother, I got away from Grandfather, and I will certainly get away from you!” However, the lady fox distracts him by praising his singing and eats Kolobok. You can watch the story in animation form below:
The Hungarian tale “The Little Dumpling” takes a different twist: the main character is a blob of Hungarian head cheese, and in the tale it seeks to eat everyone it comes across! First the family who “made” it, and then every person it meets as it rolls along down the street, including a whole army. The last to be consumed by the evil dumpling is a man who herds pigs. His knife opens the dumpling from the inside, and everybody gets out—no doubt smelling like very bad cheese.
“The Thick Fat Pancake” is another version from Germany. The pancake has little feet that it uses to run away from people, but at the story’s end, instead of being eaten by one of the animals, the pancake gives himself to two poor children who have nothing else to eat. Awww…
I hope you enjoyed this quick Monday Topic post, and that your appetite for gingerbread has grown 😉 . Next week is Christmas, so I’ll be on hiatus for that week. I wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas! Here is a big Christmas *HUG* ❤
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