and the walls came tumbling down

Em wanted the Scottish castle. Beth, the gargantuan Vermont bed and breakfast. I lobbied hard for the Christmas by the Sea lighthouse. Have we recently won the lottery, you ask?

No, I am referring to castles, lighthouses, and inns made of gingerbread. And every year, since the girls were small, we’ve made gingerbread houses for Christmas. It started, I believe when my friend Lanae gave them one she had made when they were preschoolers. The following year, we tried this marvel of construction ourselves.

Being a fair mom (when I can’t get away with anything else), we put everyone’s favorites designs in what Em refers to as her “purple pimp hat” and chose one this year. I did not win. I blame my husband for this, as he was the impartial person who pulled the piece of paper from the hat. What happened to that concept of parents sticking together?

Now, I am no cook nor architect. The concepts of precision cutting, measuring, fitting, and gluing together gingerbread walls requires skills better suited to my husband, the surgeon. Although he generally sews, rather than frosts, things together. So I readily admit to all posterity that I cheat. We start with a box, then frost four cookie pieces onto its four sides. Voila–a house. Sides that don’t perfectly fit? Icing in large quantities covers a multitude of sins.

And while we’re being truthful, let’s admit it hasn’t always been a Christmas house. Once, it was a New Year’s abode. Another time, I seem to recall, more like a Saint Patrick’s home for a leprechaun. In the years my December was filled with church duties, some things got a bit behind. But, we always made one. Eventually.

Oh, and again, full disclosure. It hasn’t always been gingerbread. Let’s face it, graham crackers are so much easier to cut and place. Not to mention they won’t cave in a roof nearly so easily. Gingerbread is one of the heaviest substances known to man. Right after fruitcake. One year, we used pretzel rods for a log cabin vibe. Actually, a lot harder than it looks. They slide.

It’s not always a house, either. One year, we made an entire village. Complete with the toy store that somehow got red food coloring dripped down it so that the kids dubbed it the satanic toy shop. Last year, the piece-de-resistance–a fantasy castle complete with turrets and drawbridge–a late tribute to our visit to Disneyworld. Not exactly perfect architecturally–but definitely the biggest thing ever to grace our counter for six weeks.

By now you’ve probably guessed, we’ve never exactly won any competitions with these stunning creations. Usually, there’s more frosting on us than the house and more candy inside us than on its walls. It’s not about any attempt at I. M. Pei or Frank Gehry. It’s about being together, doing something the youngest can do as well as the oldest. Each person working on her wall and then looking at all four together–wonderful in how bizarrely uncomplementary they are and yet perfect together. Wow, can gingerbread actually teach us a lesson in diversity? I don’t think I’ll tell the girls that. They’d just roll their eyes and tell me to stop finding sermons in everything. It’s not about perfection; it’s about seeing what new thing someone can create this year. Wondering if I’ll do this with my grandchildren one day, too.

This year, the riverboat fantasy got yanked out of the purple hat. Despite my lighthouse wishes, we will do it, and I know how it will end. Every year, without fail, I stand back, creation complete, and say, “This is the most beautiful one yet.” And it is.


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