As a finishing touch to my gingerbread house this year, I pressed a tiny white mezuza made out of vanilla taffy onto the doorpost and couldn’t help but smirk. My love of the holiday season and of Jewish tradition had reached new and very sugary peaks as my fingers stuck to the royal icing.
During the month of December, I spend hours staring, jaw agape and sweet tooth poised, at beautifully decorated gingerbread homes made with candy canes, red and green M&M’s and liquorish shoestrings. The tradition of making gingerbread houses is 200 years old, and its roots come from a secular German folktale told to nearly every American child.
In 1812, the Brothers Grimm recorded the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which two children fall prisoner to an evil witch who lives in a cottage made of sweets. In the story, the cottage, with windows of clear sugar, serves as a symbol of temptation and even as a place of salvation for the children after they are exiled from their father’s home. German families made miniature versions of the house as a holiday activity and ultimately brought the custom to North America.
This year, while countless Christian families make their gingerbread houses with red and green candies for Christmas, Manischewitz is getting in on the action, with a Jewish twist: The company has put out a blue and white Chanukah House Decorating Kit. The kit comes complete with pre-cut cookie pieces, three colors of frosting and Hanukkah decorations (including a mini mezuza — yes, I borrowed the idea). Manischewitz is even holding a Chanukah House Decorating Contest, which can be entered through its Facebook page.
For those excited to incorporate the gingerbread house into their Hanukkah tradition but aren’t so sure about committing to the kit, see the easy step-by-step, no-bake directions below. This is a perfect project for kids of all ages, and a great item to admire over the course of Hanukkah’s eight long nights.