When it comes to celebrating the holidays, gingerbread is to Christmas what the American flag is to the 4th of July. In all of its variety, gingerbread has delighted generations of Christmas-loving Americans, who dream of little candy homes and colorful little stick figures.
Even our colonial ancestors got a piece of the gingerbread action! Gingerbread, which has traditionally been one of the most popular Christmas treats, was used to decorate both the homes and trees of early American colonists. The very first printed cookbooks, which were printed in the late 1400s, even carried a number of recipes for making gingerbread, which was thought to be an extremely healthy snack. In Germany, gingerbread took the name lebkuchen which means life bread because of its perceived health benefits.
In colonial America, the making of gingerbread was based on the traditional methods of Europe, primarily England, where bakers traditionally carved an assortment of shapes and designs out of their popular treat. Gingerbread men, which were traditionally cut into the shapes of various saints, were used to decorate one's home in commemoration of the respective saint's achievements. For the impoverished masses in both England and America, gingerbread men/houses were far too expensive to be enjoyed. As a result, bakers cut small strips of gingerbread or used the leftovers from their gingerbread men/houses to make "snaps." These "snaps" were often dunked in alcohol, much to the delight of the poor customer.
Yes, gingerbread truly enjoys a history that not only dates back to our colonial ancestors, but all the way back to our European roots, which, like a number of traditions, has taken on a unique American twist. With a heritage like this, gingerbread is sure to enjoy a starring role in the American celebration of Christmas.