Every Christmas, I take on an ambitious baking project. I tell myself I enjoy doing it, but, by the end of the project, I always wonder if I have some sadomasochist need. This year, I decided to make a gingerbread house. I did my research, signed out three books from the library on the subject, read up on templates and dough recipes and decorating options, and hunkered in to make one. What at first seemed like a wholesome idea quickly spiralled into a nightmare. If you learn one lesson in life, let it be this one: never, under any circumstances, make a gingerbread house. Here’s why:
1) You won’t have time.
Making a house might seem relatively straightforward at first. You’ll make some dough, cut it out, bake it, stick everything together with gobs of royal icing, toss some jujubes on the roof and voila – you’ll be the hit of the party. But making a house is more complicated than that. AND YOU DO NOT HAVE THE TIME. Especially during the already-hectic holiday season. “But I’m an organized person,” you’ll say. “I’ll create a timeline. I enjoy challenging projects. I’ve watched instructional YouTube videos.” YOU WILL NOT HAVE THE TIME. Instead, you’ll find yourself melting Jolly Ranchers for your stained-glass windows at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning because in two days your house needs to be ready. THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME TO MAKE A GINGERBREAD HOUSE. Unless you’re retired. Or an insomniac. Or have no semblance of a life.
2) You’ll put your marriage at risk.
Early on, you’ll decide that you need help. While you’re extremely talented (Hello??!You’re making a gingerbread house with a friggin’ vestibule!), you’re not very good with fine detail stuff. So you’ll pitch this as a “couples” thing to your husband. “It’ll be so much fun,” you’ll tell him. “And a great way for us to reconnect.” (You’ll make sure you have puppy dog eyes when you say this and a slight pout.) But he won’t buy it. “Don’t try and turn yourideas in ourideas,” he’ll say, completely ignoring your cute face. (Apparently, this isn’t the first time you’ve tried to rope him into one of your projects. Whatever.) In any case, you’ll laugh dismissively in response and hand him a paintbrush for dusting edible powder on your maraschino cherry shutters. He’ll do it, reluctantly, until you criticize his powdering skills. “What are you trying to do?” you’ll ask. “Make it look like the house is covered in cocaine?” Soon, your husband’s resentment will grow. “Are you still working on that damn house?” he’ll ask whenever he walks into the kitchen. You’ll remind him this is a complicated project. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know. I just want to make it nice for everyone.” You’ll ask if he can arrange the cookies on the roof because he’s better with symmetry than you are. “If I had a stick of dynamite,” he’ll reply. “I’d jam it into this fucking house and blow it up.”
3) You’ll question your motives.
You’ll tell yourself that is a project just for you, a chance to explore your creativity and marvel at what you can accomplish with royal icing and some thoughtfully placed spearmint gummy trees. But soon after you start your gingerbread creation, you’ll begin thinking about the Instagram post. This is going to amaze your followers. All 146 of them. Would a video or stills be better? If you photograph it at night, people will get the full effect of the interior lights. But then you risk losing some of the design details. Will people still be able to make out Hansel and Gretel at the entrance? These are important considerations. Maybe a night shot and a day shot. Would it be appropriate to also post on Twitter or would that seem like you’re trying too hard? Twitter’s always a tough call. You might only get three likes. And that would be devastating. Especially after all the time it took to attach the hickory smoked almonds one-by-one onto the roof dormers. But remember! This is a project just for you. So why are you even considering posting it? Hmm. Maybe a video AND stills for the Instagram post. Now to figure out the best time of day to post it…
4) No one will eat it.
You’ll pack up the gingerbread house (wrapped in cellophane and a jaunty bow), put it in the trunk of your car and drive two hours to your family Christmas gathering with the intention of everyone eating it. After all, that’s why you made it. And there’s no way you’re hauling the stupid thing back home — you’ve already promised your husband. But when they see it, your family will think this is the Sistine Chapel of gingerbread. Your mother will marvel where you got your talent from. (Certainly not from her, all she could ever make was Hello Dollies, for heaven’s sake!) Your family will take pictures, but no one will touch it. “Please,” you’ll say. “Take a cookie.” Your hand will reach out to grab one from the roof and your mother will scream “Don’t you dare!” Someone will suggest that your mother should take it back to her retirement residence for the other seniors to admire. She’ll think this is a wonderful idea, realizing it will give her another opportunity to gloat about her talented, albeit homosexual, son. Which is totally the last reason you’d ever make a gingerbread house. You’ll remind her that the gingerbread is hard. It’s not good for dentures. “All the seniors will be able to do is suck on bits and pieces,” you’ll point out. But she’ll remind you that no one will eat it. They’ll just want to gaze upon it and celebrate her success as your mother. Reluctantly, you’ll agree to bring it over the next morning. Because the other option is to bring it home. From his spot on the couch, your husband will shoot you a look that makes you urinate a couple of drops. The next morning, your mother will call you at your hotel and tell you not to bother bringing the house. “I just realized I’d be responsible for throwing it away,” she’ll say. “And I don’t want that burden. Take it back with you, dear.” So you’ll drive back home, your cellophane-wrapped gingerbread demon in the trunk. Your husband will call people, asking if anyone knows a good divorce lawyer.
5) You’ll reconsider everything.
Even though you’ll be angry at the house, even though it’s become this cinnamon-scented shit show, you’ll still find yourself wondering what to do with it. You understand that you’ll have to destroy it. It has to be you, after all. You’re the one who unleashed this misery into the world. And isn’t that the burden of all creators? To destroy the fruits of their labours? But you’ll pause to look at the house while you write this and think, “It isa pretty gingerbread house.” You’ll look at the almonds on the roof dormers (you didn’t even know they were called that before you made this house, that’s how educational this process has been), the icicles that aren’t half-bad for an amateur, the way the light shines through those Jolly Ranchers window panes. You’ll feel a swell of solitary pride. You did it. You made a kick-ass gingerbread house. And as you bring the hammer down, you’ll tell yourself you’ll never do something this stupid again.
Until next year.