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Why Our Love Affair with Gingerbread Has a Surprising History

Photo by FabrikaSimf

Sweets of all types have become a time-honored tradition in many homes during the holidays. But nothing says Christmas like the smell of warm gingerbread.

The warm blend of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, honey, and molasses are put in cookies, muffins, and bread. You can even make tree ornaments out of gingerbread, and who can resist making a gingerbread house?

The history of this exotic treat goes as far back as the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians, who used the aromatic concoction for ceremonial purposes. It originally meant “preserved ginger.”

According to an article in Martha Stewart, in medieval France and England, fairs offered ginger-flavored sweets called fairings. The knight would get a piece for good luck.

However, the honor for the first gingerbread man goes to Queen Elizabeth I, who made them in the likeness of visiting dignitaries, known as ginger biscuits.

Gingerbread originally meant “preserved ginger.” and was often used as a preservative. Crumbled gingerbread, known for its strong flavor, was used in food preparation to cover the odor of decaying meat before refrigeration came about. YUM! .

According to a medieval Christian legend, there were four wise men. One became ill and ended his journey at the home of a rabbi. The rabbi made bread to honor the prophecies foretelling of the Great King coming to Bethlehem (means house of bread in Hebrew.) The wise man then gave the rabbi the treasure of ginger root he was carrying and suggested using ginger in his bread.

Many believe the gingerbread house dates to the 1800s from the Grimm Brother’s tale Hansel and Gretel. In the dark tale, the witch’s home, made of gingerbread and candies, is where she keeps the brother and sister to fatten them up. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.

However, others believe that during the 16th century, Germans began elaborately decorating houses with candy confections, becoming a Christmas tradition. It is unclear if this was before or after the arrival of the tale of Hansel and Gretel.

Although gingerbread has an interesting past, it has become a treasured holiday tradition. Nothing evokes the rich memories of Christmas past than the sweet and spicy scent of freshly baked gingerbread filling the home.

Does your family tradition include gingerbread? Please share your story or recipe with us in the comments.

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