Since my wife has tasked me to create a gingerbread house with our youngling, I am forced to oblige. But why, then, the gingerbread house?
It turns out that so called “honey cakes” go back to Roman times; ginger had already found its place as a prized preserving spice, with honey acting as a sweet glue. The actual sculpting of gingerbread appears to have flourished in Nuremberg, Germany, which became the “Gingerbread Capital of the World” in the 1600s (Nuremberg would acquire a very different, and much darker mythology during the first half of the twentieth century). But what actually turned a confectionery delight into a holiday (and remember, holiday = holy day) staple?
A very awful tale.
As a parent, I can’t imagine turning my children over to the elements. But then again, I didn’t have to live through the Great Famine of 1315-1317; a famine that left Europe in a state that makes the Walking Dead look pleasant. When cannibalism and infanticide are par for the course of your daily existence, maybe dropping the kids off in the woods isn’t such a bad idea…and that, in itself, is the background setting of Hansel and Gretel.
No, these are not two sweet-toothed kids wandering off into the forest to gorge their sugar cravings. These are two starving children whose parents abandoned them in the wilderness because they couldn’t afford to feed them.
And because the Brothers Grimm where such fabulous storytellers, I have to pay the price for a famine that happened nearly seven centuries before I was born. Thanks to those two, gingerbread houses are now part of our solstice celebrations.
I would love to keep going on this tirade, but…
I have to make a gingerbread house.