Probably every little kid dreams of living in a house made of candy, said Coletta Smith of Castle Rock, one of the coordinators for the Colorado Christmas Adventure event.
“Gingerbread houses capture something about childhood that’s magical,” Smith said. And “the experience you get when making something with your kids is always a win.”
No matter if you’re into building the little, tasty houses, or simply viewing the elaborately decorative displays of them, for many, gingerbread houses are a favorite holiday tradition.
Colorado Christmas Adventure
For the Smith family — Coletta; her husband Craig; and their two daughters, Rochelle, 19, and Lynae, 16 — making a gingerbread house has been an annual tradition for the past 15 years.
Smith especially enjoys it because she loves to see her children’s creativity bloom, and she loves all the conversations they have as a family during the process.
“It makes for great memories,” she said. “It’s more about that than the finished product.”
While the Smiths make everything from scratch, “kits are a wonderful place to start,” Smith said. “Especially for little kids because their favorite part is decorating it.”
This year, the Smith’s gingerbread house has a “Great Gatsby” theme and will be available for public viewing at the Colorado Christmas Adventure event.
With about 50 entries for the Gingerbread House Contest and Display at Colorado Christmas Adventure, it will be like visiting a mini city made of gingerbread, Smith said.
Denver Gingerbread Bridge Competition
“The best part about building the bridge was getting to spend time with my friends,” said Lindsey Whittington, 22, a senior studying civil engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. “The second-best part was seeing our hard work and theme come together.”
Whittington and her team of five other Mines students made up one of 18 teams participating in the 2018 Denver Gingerbread Bridge Competition.
The competition is a way for people to get into the holiday cheer while serving as a team-building activity, said Jeremy Crandall, the outgoing co-founder and co-chairman of the Structural Engineers Association of Colorado (SEAC) Young Member Group.
The 18 teams consisted of a variety of groups, spanning from middle schoolers and college students to professional architects, engineers and contractors from across the Denver metro area.
“It is great to see the different solutions that people come up with,” Crandall said, “and hear the stories of how their designs went from concept to reality.”
Each bridge is judged on architectural merit by local architects; structural performance, meaning strength to weight, and people’s choice. The catch is that it has to be 100 percent edible.
“We wanted to create a bridge that actually performed,” Whittington said, adding this is the second year she’s done the contest, and their arch bridge entry last year “failed miserably.” But she added: “We weren’t disappointed. Our bridge held 1,903.4 pounds.”
Sela Guajardo, 13, a student at North Arvada Middle School, and her two teammates’ bridge would have collapsed during the testing, she said, “but it was definitely the best tasting of all of them.”
Guajardo and her teammates are in the Girls in STEM club — a local nonprofit that works to inspire middle school and high school-aged girls to visualize and empower them to pursue STEM careers — and entered the Gingerbread Bridge Competition for the first time this year.
The competition started in 2006 by the Ascent Group, a Boulder-based structural engineering company, as an annual company holiday party event. The event expanded, and by 2014, the SEAC Young Member Group started putting it on.
For Guajardo, it was the joy of building something, and working collaboratively with her two friends on the project, she said.
“Making something edible is fun because you have to get really creative with it,” Guajardo said.
The three girls had fun getting together to work on the bridge, buying the ingredients — graham crackers, frosting, sprinkles, etc. — and getting to munch on these sweet treats along the way, Guajardo said.
But perhaps the most fun part of it for them was “being able to get messy for long periods of time” while building it, Guajardo added.
Foothills Art Center
While parents are downstairs shopping at Foothills Art Center’s Holiday Art Market, their children can have a “fun, messy time upstairs” making cardboard gingerbread houses, said Maura McInerney, the curator of education at Foothills Art Center in Golden.
“Because it’s cardboard, and not gingerbread, it’s much simpler,” McInerney said. “But you still get the experience of making a gingerbread house.”
All supplies — including the candy to decorate and the cardboard gingerbread house template — are included with the class, so the children have total creative freedom, McInerney said. This is the fourth year she has offered the classes, and there has not been one house that was the same as another, she added.
The kids love the candy and being creative during the holiday season, McInerney said.
“Kids are what makes the holidays so fun,” she said. “It brings the magic of the holidays alive when kids participate.”
National Gingerbread House Competition
“There’s no specific blueprint for making a gingerbread house,” said Carly Owens, 23, of Erie. “Anyone can add their own flair and let their creativity take over.”
Owens grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, where the annual National Gingerbread House Competition, now in its 26th year, takes place. Her desire to make gingerbread houses was passed down from her grandmother, who was a professional baker.
Owens made her first gingerbread house when she was a freshman in high school in 2009. It was with that house that she entered the National Gingerbread House Competition for the first time. Following that, each time she entered as a teen, she placed within the top 10.
Owens eventually moved to Colorado, and this year, she was the only Colorado contestant of nearly 200 entries at the national competition. It was the first year for her to compete in the adult division, which she said consisted of a mix of professional pastry artists and hobbyist bakers.
Although her gingerbread house — which was inspired by the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — did not place, she had a lot of fun, Owens said.
“It had been six years since I even touched gingerbread,” she said, “so it was a learning curve.”
Owens may not enter the competition next year, she said, noting the time and travel it takes, but perhaps in 2020.
Her advice: Make a gingerbread house for the sake of enjoying it, rather than worrying about it being pristine or perfect.
Gingerbread houses entail togetherness, tradition, holiday cheer and nostalgia, Owens said.
“They represent all those little things, all mixed together,” she added.
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