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Gingerbread Decorating Day

In Medieval England, gingerbread meant "preserved ginger." The term as we know it today dates to the fifteenth century. It's a name given to a sweet treat or baked good made with ginger that is usually sweetened with honey, sugar, molasses, or treacle. It can range from a moist cake to a crisp ginger snap, but for today's holiday, Gingerbread Decorating Day, it generally applies to gingerbread cookies. Gingerbread Decorating Day celebrates the family tradition of gingerbread decorating. Family and friends, from young to old, come together to decorate gingerbread cookies.

During the Late Middle Ages, hard gingerbread cookies, sometimes adorned with gold leaf, and shaped into kings and queens and animals, were found at Medieval fairs in England, France, Germany, and Holland. The shapes of these cookies were also dependent on the seasons, sometimes resembling flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Eventually, some of the festivals became known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as "fairings." Queen Elizabeth I started similarly decorating cookies and made them look like foreign dignitaries that had visited her court, as well as like her own court.

Gingerbread started being eaten during the holidays in part because of a belief the spices heated you up in winter. Gingerbread houses date to the sixteenth century, when they became associated with the Christmas season. Popularity increased after the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, which features a gingerbread house. English colonists brought gingerbread to the New World. Recipes for three types of gingerbread are found in the first cookbook published in the United States, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons. One of these was for a softer version, a common version in the United States at the time. With the addition of butter and cream to recipes in the eighteenth century, gingerbread more resembled the gingerbread cookies of today—the cookies we decorate on Gingerbread Decorating Day!

How to Observe Gingerbread Decorating Day

Gather together with family and friends to bake and decorate gingerbread cookies! You could decorate gingerbread men, women, and children, or perhaps even a gingerbread house!

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