When I was growing up my favorite Christmas tradition – other than getting a ton of gifts! – was Gingerbread Boy Day! But it started long before I was born…
My grandmother, Sophia Spelts, in the early 1950’s when her children were small, was heartbroken when she learned that the children in an orphanage in San Diego often didn’t receive anything at all for Christmas. She was an excellent cook and baker – in fact she worked in a bakery as a young woman – so I guess it was only made sense to her to try and fill that gap by baking! She would make dozens of Gingerbread Boys, decorate them with frosting and candy, back each one individually with a sheet of cardboard, wrap it up, and tie it with a big beautiful bow. And for some of those children, it was the only gift they got that year.
When her own children grew up and got married, she brought the new spouses into her tradition. On a Sunday before Christmas everyone would come to her house and decorate cookies for her to deliver to the children.
I was the first grandchild, and I remember vividly my first time at the table with a big butter knife and bowl of pink frosting and getting to decorate a cookie – although I think by then the orphanage had closed, and so that part of the story had ended – but Gingerbread Boy Day lived on as a family tradition. And the number of cousins participating grew and grew. I remember my Grandma had a real thing about monsters. If the decorating didn’t pass her standards, it was labeled a monster. Most of the boys made monsters! But the monsters tasted better – they had gumdrops for eyes, and big chocolate chips all over and maybe even coconut and red hots – all on one cookie. So yeah, not always very pretty, but definitely tasty!
Because I was the oldest and artistic, Grandma would always make one special cookie for me to decorate – usually it was a big tree, large enough for a small family to share – and I’d spend half the day making sure that special cookie was a masterpiece. I was also the first to put a paper skirt on a Gingerbread Boy, making it a Gingerbread Girl. I took a stiff napkin, pleated it, and used some frosting to glue it on – and it was cute!
After my Grandma passed on, we kept up the tradition, and through the years the frosting colors have strayed from her preferred pastels to darker more garish hues – she’d shake her head if she could see how bright the yellow is now! But I think she’d be thrilled to know that 23 years after her death, new family members are joining in, and that a tradition she started nearly sixty years ago is still going strong!
Getting started is always a little overwhelming. So many colors, so many choices…
Here’s a helpful hint in cookie selection! Make sure you grab the cookies with no visible flour on the surface. Flour is ugly! The only solution if you get stuck with a cookie with flour on it, is to cover the whole cookie with frosting. Thicker cookies usually taste better. And look for a cookie with a nice shape – one that’s waving one arm, or has a jaunty angle to his head is always good!
Josh showing off his work!
I think Nathan loaded this one with so much good stuff, it’s face is about to slide off…
Nathan watches my Mom stack finished cookies.
Hint number two! All Gingerbread Boys need a Gingerbread Girl… She has a little flour on her leg – obviously I wasn’t quick enough at grabbing the good cookies!
Josh is the artist in his generation. Whatever he does, it’s always beautiful.
You can see it in his hands as he works…
And here’s the finished product! I think this was the cookie of the day!