Holiday traditions provide a sense of belonging and comfort during a hectic season, and they also offer families the opportunity to create amazing memories together.
My family's favorite holiday tradition is our annual "Gingerbread" Architecture Contest. We hold it each year on Christmas Eve.
We started this contest back in the time when it was too expensive for us to buy pre-packaged gingerbread house kits for all five of our kids. But we wanted them to have the experience and fun of creating a "gingerbread" house, so we came up with Plan Graham Crackers.
This annual contest is always creative, and silly, and fun -- and has given us years of fun memories to look back on.
A concert scene, with gummy bears as the audience.
Creations have ranged from simple houses to ornate scenes.
The rules are simple: random teams of two are formed by drawing names from a bowl. Pair older children or adults with the littles to keep the teams fair.
Each team starts with:
- One package of graham crackers
- One tub of white frosting (Pro tip: You don't want whipped frosting. It doesn't hold the graham crackers together as well.)
Shared decorations include:
- Food coloring or gel to tint the frosting
- Assorted small candies such as mints, gummy bears and worms, jelly beans, gum, licorice, sour candies, hard candies, gum drops, mini candy canes.
- Assorted snacks in fun shapes such as cereal, crackers, pretzels, cookies.
- Assorted baking decorations, such as colored sugar, red hots, sprinkles.
- Teams are also allowed to raid the cupboards and pantry if they check with me first! (Flour makes great snow!) But once it's on the table, it is fair game for all teams to share!
Prepare your work area:
Cover the table with newspaper -- the candy and frosting get super messy! Provide bowls to mix colored frosting and plastic knives or spreaders that are safe for littles to use to spread the frosting. Make sure you provide a tray for each creation. We have found pizza pans, cookie trays, plastic trays from the dollar store, or even a piece of sturdy cardboard works.
The creativity the teams show each year never fails to amaze us. We always give them full creative license to build whatever inspires them.
Here are some of my favorite creations over the years:
A storefront, complete with a "sale" sign!
George Washington crossing the Delaware.
An art gallery.
Sometimes, as you can see, the entries have nothing to do with houses at all. As the kids get older, it's so much fun to see their interests come alive through their construction efforts. We have had creations from a variety of themes including a scene from Star Wars and a reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware!
If you want to actually make it a true contest, assign a judge and award a prize to each team for things like most creative, most sturdy, and best use of color, etc.
The kids have so much fun with our "Gingerbread" Architecture Contest that they don't even realize the educational aspects attached to the construction including teamwork, sharing, creativity, cooperation, planning, and even a little physics!
Joan Scovic is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Palatine-Barrington, Ill.