“Run! Run! As fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” – From “The Gingerbread Boy”
When Christmas comes to town, all of the things that make the season magical start popping up in stores, workplaces and homes. Visages of Santa, his reindeer and sleigh, cartoony snowmen, praying angels, candy canes and more cover our walls and shelves, adorn our gifts and dance in our thoughts. One such icon of the season is a cute little guy who has a great tan, currants for eyes, raisins for buttons and a sugar-candy hat – it’s the Gingerbread Man! Most of us remember taking time as kids to decorate a few, adding eyes and/or giving them a colorful sweater made of icing, taking a brief moment to admire our work and then, rearing back to take a big ol’ bite out of the delicious little guy. This beloved holiday treat is a favorite all over the world.
The earliest record of gingerbread can be traced back to ancient Egypt in the form of honey cakes flavored with ginger and other spices. Eventually, around the year 992, gingerbread found its way to Europe via a recipe carried by a monk named Gregory of Nicopolis. The old European recipe for gingerbread closely resembles what we enjoy today; the Gingerbread Man was created some time later.
Fast-forward to the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth I insisted on entertaining foreign dignitaries with lavish royal dinners. The menu typically included desserts created from marzipan shaped as fruit, castles or birds. One dignitary favorite was a special biscuit baked by the royal gingerbread maker in the likeness of the Queen’s many guests. These “gingerbread men’’ never failed to dazzle and charm each and every dinner attendee. Soon, the design caught on outside of the royal retinue, and common folk began making them and selling them as “love tokens” for young women.
Gingerbread recipes were brought over to the U.S. by European immigrants, but the Gingerbread Man, himself, did not find popularity until 1875 when the story of “The Gingerbread Boy” was published in St. Nicholas Magazine. It’s hard to pinpoint just when the Gingerbread Man became associated with Christmas and many simply state that it was a “natural” choice due to the biscuit’s historical connection with special occasions, as well as ginger’s perceived “warming” ability. Needless to say, the Gingerbread Man is a welcome and familiar part of the Christmas experience.
When was the last time you either created or enjoyed eating a Gingerbread Man? Catch him if you can!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from MCM!