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Making a gingerbread house can involve mom, dad, kids
Dave McTigue, director of culinary and nutrition services at Lanier Village Estates in Gainesville, adds icicles along the roof of a gingerbread barn constructed by himself and his staff. The barn will rest alongside a chocolate river.
Gingerbread house decorating guide: Get a list of various candies and other items that can be used in decorating a gingerbread house.

Amid the hustle and bustle of readying the house for Christmas, it may be easy to overlook or not even consider putting together a gingerbread house.

"I think the whole getting away from the kitchen (affects) that," said Dave McTigue, director of culinary and nutrition services at Lanier Village Estates in Gainesville.

"Mom's not in the kitchen as much as she used to be and with that, the baking kind of goes," he added. "It's one of those things if you bake (a house) or see one, it's like, ‘Wow, look at that.' It's not something you see every day or that everybody does during the season."

And McTigue knows gingerbread houses, a holiday tradition that dates to the early 1800s in Germany.

Fascinated with them for about 20 years, he has built one over the holidays for the past five years at Lanier Village, a retirement community off Thompson Bridge Road.

"I've always made them wherever I've worked," he said.

This year's model stands about 27 inches and is on a base that is 6 by 4 feet.

"This year is a barn theme," McTigue said. "We've got all kinds of animals. ... The barn is the gingerbread structure and it's got an outside and inside. It has a hayloft, plus it's got a big Christmas tree on the inside."

Other touches include a gingerbread fence, Santa's reindeer, trees, a creek that runs through the farmyard and a silo.

The average family's gingerbread home may not be nearly as elaborate or time-consuming to build - McTigue's version last year took 151 hours to complete - but the task can be done with all hands on deck.

There's plenty of holiday confections, such as gum drops and peppermint candies, at the grocery store to help to dress up the structure.

And these days, you don't have to have a time-honored recipe to pull off the activity. As McTigue pointed out, many stores now carry gingerbread house kits that include instructions and pre-baked ingredients.

Whatever the method, gingerbread house construction is a great option for families seeking fun holiday activities, said Sheri Hooper, executive director of Interactive Neighborhood for Kids.

It's important "just spending time together and doing things together," she said. "Life is so busy now that it's hard to stop and take time to do that.

"Just a simple (activity) as putting that gingerbread house together creates so much joy and love within the family," Hooper said.

The work can be hard "but rewarding," she added.

The Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County sponsored a gingerbread house family event at INK, which is at 999 Chestnut St. in Gainesville, on Dec. 5.

Club members guided children and their families in building the houses using healthier ingredients, such as graham crackers, trail mix and whole-grain candies, as part of its "Kids in the Kitchen" program.

"What a great thing to do and know that you did it, and then turn around and eat it as a healthy snack," Hooper said. "It worked out great."

Liza Chapman, who heads up the program, said she wasn't at the event, but from what she has heard and seen in pictures from it, all went well. Gingerbread house building "is a really fun, creative idea for the holidays," she said.

As an architect and builder, McTigue said he enjoys seeing others' reactions.

"The smile that it brings to them is, to me, what it's all about," he said.

McTigue doesn't make one at home any longer as his children are a bit older, but the Lanier Village creation "keeps me challenged for the year," he said.