Decorating a Gingerbread House: Charming Ideas & Themes

traditional gingerbread house

Building a gingerbread house is a holiday tradition for many people. Whether you use a pre-baked base or make your own from scratch, there are many decorating ideas for gingerbread houses to help you create a one-of-a-kind delicious holiday centerpiece.

House Making Supplies

Gingerbread houses traditionally use candies, foods, and frosting as decorations. There are many different items available that can be used to decorate your gingerbread house. Following are some to consider:

  • Candy canes: Miniature candy canes are perfect on either side of a doorway as a decorative accent; they also look nice on the edge of each corner of the house.
candy canes and gumdrops on gingerbread house
  • Gumdrops: Gumdrops are versatile and can be placed along the roof or around a window. They also look good along the edge of the house or as a walkway.
  • M&M's®: These small chocolate drops look great on the edge of a roof or when used to create a "stone" walkway.
  • Colored lollipops: These add a pop of color when flanking a doorway or placed around the house as candy trees.
  • Round mints: Red and/or green striped mints are pretty when used as wreaths above a doorway or window.
  • Licorice: Narrow rope licorice can be shaped into a wreath or a bow and attached wherever you need to fill empty space.
  • Tootsie Rolls®: The small Rolls look nice in a pattern on the roof or as part of a walkway.
  • Chewing gum sticks: Use mint or cinnamon flavored sticks for window shutters.
  • Marshmallows: Dye large marshmallows green to make candy bushes in front of your house.
  • Ice cream cones: Turn cones upside down, frost with green icing, and you've created a tree.
  • Pretzels: Square pretzels make nice shutters; white chocolate covered twisted pretzels look great lined along the center of a roof.
  • Coconut flakes: Sprinkle coconut on the rooftop and around the perimeter of the house to mimic fresh snow.
  • Frosted Shredded Mini-Wheats®: Snow-covered roof shingles are easily made by these cereal treats.
  • Wheat Chex®: This cereal can also create realistic roof shingles.

In addition to the items mentioned above, you'll also want to purchase cake decorating bags and icing tips to make it easier to neatly assemble the pieces of your gingerbread house.

Gingerbread House Themes

A gingerbread house can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish. If you're making the house from scratch, you'll need to choose a theme and pattern for your house. Once your house is created, simply add your own touch of creativity to create the perfect gingerbread masterpiece.

Traditional Candy House

This is the perfect holiday project for kids. A candy house is typically decorated using any of the above candies and royal icing. You may choose to decorate the "yard" of your house by creating a gumdrop walkway that leads to a front door made of graham crackers; use marshmallows to create snow people and make frosted ice cream cones for trees. You can create a color theme for your house by creating patterns of candies in certain colors like red and green or pink and white.

Gingerbread Barn

Gingerbread farm scene
Gingerbread church

If you live in the country or on a farm, you may want to build a gingerbread barn instead of a house. Taste of Home has a great gingerbread barn recipe and offers tips on how to build and decorate your barn using Triscuits® as roof shingles and pretzel sticks to build a fence.

To get started on your own red barn creation, frost your barn with red frosting or attach sticks of cinnamon flavored gum to resemble wooden slats. Leave the roof brown or add shredded wheat shingles for a rustic effect. For a true red barn effect, attach sticks of cinnamon flavored gum to the base.

Gingerbread Church

Gingerbread churches make beautiful centerpieces during the holiday season. To turn a basic gingerbread house into a church, you'll need to create a steeple. It's easy to do this by attaching an upside down sugar cone to the roof of the house or by making a steeple by gluing graham crackers together with royal icing. Adding simple accents helps create an elegant look -- try adding coconut or powdered sugar as "snow" on the roof, mint candy wreaths on the doors, a cross piped onto the house with frosting, or frost windows a pale yellow to create a soft candlelight effect. Glassy hard candies with white icing window panes also offer a stained glass effect.

Santa's Workshop

Gingerbread House - Santa's Workshop, photo courtesy Shihmei Barger

Creating Santa's workshop from gingerbread is an activity the whole family will enjoy. Start with a basic gingerbread house and use lots of bright colored candies as decorations. Place the house on a bed of coconut "snow" to represent the wintry landscape of the North Pole. Candy canes and peppermint sticks make nice candy "trees." Create Santa Claus, reindeer, and elf gingerbread cookies and place them around the house or on the rooftop. Use plenty of white frosting for snow on the rooftop and windows. You can create Santa's sleigh by lying a whole graham cracker onto two candy cane "runners" and attach with royal icing -- stack Starburst® candies onto the sleigh for presents.

Gingerbread House Tips

  • Pick a sturdy base for your creation. A cookie sheet, plywood board, or heavy platter covered with foil makes it easy to move your house when the project is finished.
  • Test the strength of your design by cutting templates from poster board or lightweight cardboard and taping the pieces together. If the house falls apart, it's time to rethink your plan.
  • If you live in a very humid climate, consider making gingerbread supports to place inside your house. Cardboard toilet or paper towel rolls work well.
  • If you plan to have children help you decorate your house, assemble the pieces before they arrive. It's hard to make a sturdy structure under the watchful eyes of excited kids!
  • Ideally, you should let your gingerbread house dry overnight before decorating.
  • Keep your icing "glue" covered and refrigerated until needed.
  • When decorating the roof of your house, it's best to use lightweight candy. Heavy candy or large amounts of frosting could cause your roof to cave in.
  • To apply large pieces of candy to the house, dab a small amount of icing underneath the candy and hold in place with your fingers until the icing has time to set.
  • To make a walkway leading up to your house, simply spread a good amount of frosting in the shape of your desired path. When you press the candy into the frosting, the frosting will fill in around the edges to form a "mortar" between the candy.
  • Stack graham crackers to create a simple porch and use candy canes to support your porch roof.
  • Before adding trees, bushes, or fences to your gingerbread house, sprinkle your base with shredded coconut dyed with green food coloring.
  • Hide any minor assembly mistakes under a thick layer of icing "snow."

Gingerbread House Storage

Once you've finished decorating your gingerbread house, make sure it is stored properly. If you're not planning to allow your children to eat the house immediately, keep it in a cool and dry location. You may also wish to cover the house at night with a layer of plastic wrap to protect it from dust and insects. For especially elaborate gingerbread houses that are purely for show, seal your artwork with a clear lacquer purchased from your local craft or hardware store. Use two or three coats for maximum protection.

A Fun Holiday Project

Whether you choose to decorate a gingerbread house on your own or with your family, the decorating possibilities are endless. You and your family will feel pride in your creations and, when you create a new house year after year, your decorating skills and creativity levels will increase. Decorating a gingerbread house is a great way to catch the holiday spirit and create a treasured holiday tradition that will be passed on to future generations for years to come.

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Decorating a Gingerbread House: Charming Ideas & Themes