‘Tis the season … to celebrate National Gingerbread Day, a special day that comes on June 5 each year. While the origins of this event remain shrouded in mystery (for now), lovers of this sweet treat come together to celebrate gingerbread in all its forms on this day.
History of National Gingerbread Day
Earlier, gingerbread meant ‘preserved ginger’, which came from the Old French term ‘gingerbras’, which in turn was derived from ‘zingebar’, the Latin term for ginger.
The spice that gives gingerbread its spicy flavor originated in China, where it was traditionally used as a medical treatment. It spread to Europe via the Silk Road. Early Crusaders brought back this spice from the Middle East to experiment with. They would add it to preserved meats and medicinal remedies too.
The earliest forms of gingerbread didn’t even use ginger and were not always bread — they were essentially honey cakes. As the spice became more affordable to the masses, the gingerbread trend caught on.
The ancient Greeks and Egyptians used gingerbread for ceremonial purposes. They were even a staple in medieval fairs across England, France, Holland, and Germany. At this time gingerbread was sold as hard cookies in the shape of animals, kings, and queens, and were occasionally gilded with gold leaf. This decoration is credited to Queen Elizabeth I, who had cookies decorated in this fashion. Over time, fairs in England were called Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes would change according to the season — flowers in the spring and birds in the fall.
The earliest gingerbread man is also credited to Queen Elizabeth I, who reportedly presented visiting dignitaries to her court with these human-shaped gingerbread treats.
The Grimm Brothers’ story “Hansel and Gretel” put gingerbread houses on the map and German settlers brought this trend to the Americas. Gingerbread is now considered an art form in many places including Nuremberg, Ulm, and Pulsnitz in Germany, Torun in Poland, Tula in Russia, Pest in Hungary, Pardubice and Prague in the Czech Republic, and Lyon in France. These places have had baking guilds sanctioned by the government since the Middle Ages.
National Gingerbread Day timeline
A gingerbread recipe originates in this period.
This sweet is introduced to Europe by an Armenian monk, Gregory of Nicopolis, who teaches French priests how to cook it.
The Chinese develop their own recipes using this spice.
Swedish nuns use gingerbread to ease digestion problems.
At this time, gingerbread is a soft cake made from molasses and ginger — it is not being widely consumed yet.
The English replace the breadcrumbs used in gingerbread with flour — they also add eggs and sweeteners, which create a lighter product.
Gingerbread Biscuits are sold in monasteries, pharmacies, and town-square farmers’ markets.
“American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons contains three different gingerbread recipes.
Recipes show an addition of butter and cream to gingerbread recipes, forever transforming the taste into what it is today.
These become popular after the Brothers Grimm publish their fairy tale collection, which includes the famous story of “Hansel and Gretel”.
National Gingerbread Day FAQs
What day is National Gingerbread House Day?
December 12 is celebrated as Gingerbread House Day! This day recognizes a family tradition for many around the country.
When should you make a gingerbread house?
Most people make gingerbread houses around the Christmas holidays. That doesn’t mean that you should restrict yourself from making this on any day you like.
Does gingerbread dough go bad?
Fresh gingerbread dough lasts up to seven days with refrigeration, and up to 12 months if stored in the freezer.
How To Celebrate National Gingerbread Day
Whip up a batch of gingerbread cookies. Make some gingerbread pancakes with a fun fruity topping. Bake some gingerbread cupcakes. Go medieval and chow on some crystallized ginger. Or, if you are not a fan, cook up a delicious sweet ginger-flavored dish. Gingerbread is not just about the cookies, there are so many variations to this recipe that we are sure you will find the one that tickles your taste buds the most. Bon appetit!
Another fun way to celebrate is to visit your local bakery to buy some tasty gingerbread treats. Try out some exotic options too, if you can find them — like Polish ‘piernik’, Dutch ‘speculaas’, Croatian ‘licitars’ — or find the American version of the spicy Polish gingerbread cake that is sometimes served with lemon glaze. Don’t eat alone; share your bounty with loved ones and make a gingerbread picnic of it!
Read about gingerbread
Revisit the fairy tales from your childhood. Take a walk down memory lane when you read fairy tales about gingerbread men. This time, check out the unabridged versions meant for adults. Some fun stories to sample include “The Gingerbread Man” and “Hansel and Gretel.”
5 Fun Facts About Gingerbread
A Swedish wish
Swedish tradition says to put gingerbread onto your palm, make a wish, and break it — if it breaks into three, your wish will come true.
Gingerbread to meet a man
In the early ages, folk medicine practitioners gave gingerbread men to young women — if the woman could get a young man to eat it, it was believed he would fall madly in love with her.
You can eat inside this gingerbread house
The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain in Tucson, Arizona has a life-size gingerbread house that people can book for a private lunch or dinner.
The world's largest gingerbread house
Traditions Golf Club in Texas is in the Guinness Book of Records for creating the world's largest gingerbread house, which can comfortably house a family of five.
Gingerbread work is on our homes
Many colonial American seaside homes boast carved white architectural details called 'gingerbread work' that is inspired by the designs used on gingerbread cookies served at Gingerbread Fairs in medieval times.
Why We Love National Gingerbread Day
It reminds us of Christmas
Traditionally, gingerbread was only eaten over the Christmas holidays — probably because it was considered sacred — and, even today, it is associated with this time in most households across America. Biting into this spicy wonder transports us straight into the holiday season. We love feeling like every day is Christmas, and that's why we love National Gingerbread Day.
It brings back childhood memories
“You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.” Who doesn’t remember these words being read to them as children? This tasty dish is not just a feast for the mouth, it actively reminds us of fairy tales that have the power to transport us back to our childhood, and that is a beautiful feeling.
The many shapes and faces of gingerbread
There are so many things you can do with gingerbread. Cookies shaped like little men, soft cakes, harder cookies, entire houses — there’s a gingerbread version for everyone. This yummy treat has different meanings depending on the region and country it is made in. So the next time you are stumped for gifts, maybe give your loved ones a gingerbread surprise (and make it yourself for bonus points).
National Gingerbread Day dates