I have been fascinated by the "witch's house" in Hansel and Gretel since I was a child. I remembered my mum telling me the story of that house made of chocolate and sweets and I wished I were a third sibling, the one who would change the story. I don't remember how exactly I wanted to change the fairy tale but I am sure that it involved eating a lot of chocolate and running away before the witch’s arrival ;)
Therefore gingerbread houses reminds me childhood and I have been researching their origins and how to build them.
According to Wikipedia, Gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 by an Armenian monk who came to live in France. During the 13th century, it was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. It was the custom to bake white biscuits and paint them as window decorations.
Gingerbread biscuits started to be traded during the 16th century, where they were sold in monasteries, pharmacies and town square farmers' markets. One hundred years later the town of Market Drayton in Shropvile, UK in became known for its gingerbread, as is proudly displayed on their town's welcome sign.
Gingerbread became widely available in the 18th century. In Brazil it is called pão de mel (honey bread) and is a type of cake usually coated with chocolate. In Switzerland, the gingerbread has a marzipan filling and is known as "biber”(my children love it!). It is very typical in St Gallen and Appenzell. The St Gallen biber is adorned with the St. Gallen cathedral while the Appenzell biber is engraved with the Appenzell bear.
In Germany there are two forms of ginger bread: a soft cake called Lebkuchen and a harder form. This latter is the dough used to build gingerbread houses and they are really inspired in the witch’s house from the German fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. Children and parents build them often in Christmas time.
I know that nowadays you can buy gingerbread houses everywhere but I think the joy is really in the making it yourself. If you fancy it, have a look: in English or in German.