In the kitchen, the gingerbread houses sat in a row, creating a sugary subdivision on the granite countertop. One was decorated with precise detail, everything from gummy bears to peppermints on every window, door and shingle. A few were adorned just on one side, the architects having abandoned the project so they could go and play dolls. One house had collapsed under the weight of a bag’s worth of icing on the roof, despite several efforts at repair. And one stood with a lawn made of candy, the joint effort of a brother and sister. The view was like staring at the embodiment of Christmas.
These constructions were the result of a cookie-decorating party I was lucky enough to attend this past Saturday. I knew we were in for a good time the minute I walked into the kitchen to see a fold-out table covered with magical bottles of sprinkles, cans of icing in every festive color, and plain sugar cookies just aching to look pretty. The kitchen table had been reserved for the gingerbread house kits and marshmallowy cups of hot chocolate. The kids, 10 of them under the age of 10, were bouncing around, their eyes saucers as they eyed the candy. The hostess wisely handed each mom a glass of champagne and we got to work.
I wouldn’t accuse any of my friends of being overly crafty and this was the first time I had been with them when we had a project to do.
I was immediately impressed to learn Julie is a baller in the gingerbread house-making department. She quickly scanned the instructions and started laying down icing foundation in the grooves of the provided trays so the walls would stay upright. Since she has no patience for directions, Sarah B. started figuring things out on her own, relying on logic. Sarah K. was likewise gifted and had her two little munchkins around her, a Rockwellian scene if I’ve ever seen one. Tonya hovered around the cookie-decorating center, helping kids frill cookies with icing and taking care of sprinkles management. As for me, I watched Julie and copied exactly what she did because I have neither patience for directions, nor do I possess an abundance of reasoning skills.
It became pretty clear upon opening the gingerbread house kit that, yep, this is as much for the parents as for the kids. Laying down the icing cement and getting those walls to stick firmly together? That is satisfying stuff right there. And then outlining the shingles with a nice scalloped edge? Crafty or not, I’m pretty sure I can do that nearly constantly under Christmas.
Happily, Evan and Finn were my charges and they were extremely into the decorating process. Evan would point where he needed more “glue” and I would happily oblige. Even after all of the other kids had moved on to the playroom, Evan kept toiling away to get everything applied perfectly.
That was also interesting, seeing how the kids’ different personalities emerged as they worked on their project. Evan’s brother Owen, for example, had a great time after his and John David’s icing bag sprung a leak and they suddenly had a blizzard all over their roof (that’s the construction that didn’t make it intact). Allie Elise decided she was far more into sugar cookie decoration and Piper was happy to help her — and hang out with an older girl. After one side of his house was decorated, John Parker decided he’d had enough and went to color in the playroom for the next hour. Meanwhile, Max spent the entire afternoon in his Halloween costume dressed as Chase, a police dog from the cartoon “Paw Patrol.”
Eventually, the kids scattered to play with each other and the women sat and partook in kitschy appetizers like pigs in a blanket and a pecan-studded cheese log, trying to decide if we were made of stout enough stuff to make it to the chilly Christmas parade (we weren’t). And as we lingered, casually cleaning and eating, I realized that this day, this very special day, was exactly what the season is all about: children, treats, relaxation and togetherness.