Wednesday, December 17, 2014 • 8:51 AM Comments ()

Little Boxes Made of ticky tacky

posted by Caleb Rounds

It’s that most irritating time of the year. The indentured boarders are big on Christmas, quelle suprise. The youngest has even launched a campaign to celebrate Hanukah concurrently. Thus far he’s only asked for Latkes and a menorah, but I’m pretty sure he’s just working up to gifts. “Well, as long as we’re lighting candles, shouldn’t I be opening a present of some sort?” I will indulge him on the Latkes though.

The boss wants to leave the lights lit on the tree all the time. To be fair they are LEDs and rather tiny; we waste more electricity than that forgetting to power down our laptops. Nevertheless, burning light bulbs scream at me: “do you want global warming spawned apocalypse? Because that’s how you get an apocalypse” (and yes you should read that in Archer’s voice).

Our Christmas celebrations are devoid of any religiosity, unless of course you count Minecraft as a religion. I don’t think the boarders are even aware of the religious origins. This morning on NPR the newsreader mentioned Christians. Elliot responded with “Logan’s Christian.” No word on whether the boy’s twin brother or parents are Christian. He then told me my other son is Jewish. This is news to me, and probably Isaac as well.

But lack of religiosity doesn’t mean a lack of tradition. Two members of the family are big on tradition, it’s how we keep our balance, just like Tevye. We have an “advent” calendar. When you open each door you see a sentence from “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” I don’t think that’s the traditional meaning of “Advent,” but no matter, no one has created a Minecraft Advent calendar, yet. Traditionally, the children fight over who gets to open and read each sentence. Then they open a piece of candy donated by the local dentist and individually wrapped by the boss. She individually wraps 48 pieces of candy so that the boarders can rip them open in a second and a half because….advent. It does make the children “happy” however briefly.

We’ve also adopted a more common tradition: we make gingerbread houses. The boss labors over this as well: she makes the dough, lets it rest in the fridge, rolls it out, bakes the lumber then assembles the houses using royal icing. It takes a few days, but then the boarders can “decorate” them: put candy on them.

Luckily for me the kids don’t seem aware that the best part of eating a gingerbread house is actually eating the gingerbread. If you keep the house in a plastic bag the “bread” stays moist, spicy and delicious. As one might expect from the name, the spice comes from ginger, a perennial herbaceous tropical plant that not only tastes great but helps preserve the bread.

Using ginger to make spiced cakes has been popular in Europe since at least the turn of the last millennium. The origin of the gingerbread house itself is a bit uncertain. Some food historians claim the first evidence was in the Grimm version of Hansel and Gretel. Others argue that the houses pre-existed the brothers Grimm. This latter is a bit more convincing to me.

We borrowed the tradition from my mother who has been making them for years. It goes without saying that in my childhood decoration was performed by my mother, not by the filthy children. The houses certainly looked nicer and cleanup time was minimized. She outsourced the eating though.

This is America so there are many ways to cheat for your tradition. You can buy a gingerbread kit that includes a prebaked house and cardboard form. You can also buy numerous foam gingerbread kits. That’s sort of like meta-decoration: foam imitations of gingerbread imitations of a house. You can’t even eat them.

I’m glad the boss bakes ours, and despite finding Christmas time very stressful, I do like this one tradition. I’m particularly happy this year because she made four so I get to decorate one for the first time.

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