Gingerbread House Competition: Planning And Prizes

how to organize a gingerbread house competition

Gingerbread house competitions are a fun and festive way to celebrate the holidays and bring friends and family together. Whether you're hosting a small gathering or a large event, there are some key steps to organising a memorable gingerbread house competition. Firstly, decide on the format: will it be in-person or virtual? If you're gathering in person, ensure you have a suitable space with enough tables and supplies for each team or individual. If you're hosting virtually, pick a date and time that works for everyone and consider sending out kits with the necessary ingredients and decorations.

On the day of the competition, start by dividing participants into teams or letting them know if they'll be working individually. Provide a clear set of rules and guidelines, including any time limits, and give everyone a chance to ask questions. For in-person competitions, you may want to begin by assembling the basic structure of the houses, allowing time for the icing to harden before moving on to decorating. For virtual competitions, participants can bake their gingerbread pieces ahead of time so they're ready to decorate during the event.

Encourage creativity and festive cheer! Participants can bring their own edible decorations, from candy canes and gumdrops to nuts and sprinkles. Don't forget to take lots of pictures and, of course, determine a winner! Awards can be given in multiple categories, such as Most Creative, Most Delicious-Looking, and Largest Structure.

Characteristics Values
Number of participants Depends on the number of guests. Divide into teams of 2-4 people if the party is large.
Team composition Mixed-age groups if the party has both child and adult guests.
Work area Separate work areas for each team to prevent peeking or stealing ideas.
Supplies Graham crackers, royal icing, and edible decorations like mini marshmallows, gumdrops, mints, candy canes, and Hershey's Kisses.
Competition structure Two parts: 30 minutes for assembling the basic structure with graham crackers and royal icing, followed by a one-hour break, and then another hour for decorating with candies and additional royal icing.
Judging criteria Multiple categories such as Most Creative, Most Delicious-Looking, Largest Structure, and Most Festive.
Prizes Holiday-themed items like CDs, hot cocoa mixes, or small gift cards.


Decide on a date and time

Deciding on a date and time is a crucial step in organizing a gingerbread house competition. Here are some tips to help you choose the best time for your event:

Consider the occasion:

The gingerbread house competition is a festive activity often associated with Christmas. Therefore, choosing a date close to the holidays, such as a weekend in December, can add to the cheer and excitement.

Poll your participants:

Before finalizing the date, consider sending out a poll to potential participants to see which days work best for them. This is especially important if you're organizing a virtual competition, as participants may be joining from different locations and time zones.

Choose a convenient time:

Consider the age group of your participants when selecting a time. For example, if children are involved, a morning or early afternoon start time might be preferable to avoid interfering with their bedtime routines.

Allow sufficient time:

The competition should be held over a few hours to give participants enough time to assemble and decorate their gingerbread houses. You can divide the competition into two parts: the first for assembling the basic structure and the second for decorating. Allow for a break in between for the icing to harden and for participants to socialize or enjoy snacks.

Be mindful of attention spans:

If you're organizing a virtual gingerbread house competition, keep in mind that attention spans tend to be shorter during online events. Aim to keep the total duration to around two hours or less.

Plan ahead:

Encourage participants to prepare certain elements in advance, such as baking the gingerbread pieces and making the icing. This will ensure that the actual competition day runs smoothly and that all elements are ready for assembly and decoration.

By following these tips, you can choose a date and time that works best for your gingerbread house competition, ensuring a fun and enjoyable experience for all participants.

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Prepare the materials

The materials you will need for your gingerbread house competition will depend on the number of people participating and their ages. For example, if you are hosting a competition for children, you may want to prepare the gingerbread dough and royal icing in advance, so that the children can focus on assembling and decorating their houses. If adults are participating, you may want to make the competition more challenging by asking them to prepare their own dough and icing.

If you are preparing the dough, make sure you use a construction-grade gingerbread recipe that is easy, consistent, and sturdy. You can find recipes online that are specifically designed for building gingerbread houses. You will also need a royal icing recipe, which will be used as "glue" to hold the houses together. This can be made with egg whites, powdered sugar, and cream of tartar. If you want to get really creative, you can also make edible "glass" windows and "glue" using Tylose glue, which is clear and thin.

In addition to the dough and icing, you will need a variety of candies and other edible decorations. Here are some ideas:

  • Mini marshmallows
  • Gumdrops
  • Andes Mints
  • Mini candy canes
  • Hershey's Kisses
  • Sprinkles
  • Nuts (peanuts, pecans, almonds, slivered almonds)
  • Pretzel rods
  • Graham crackers
  • Ice cream cones
  • KitKat chocolate bars or wafer cookies
  • After Eight Mints

You will also need some basic supplies like baking sheets, parchment paper, rolling pins, sharp knives, and pastry bags.

If you are hosting a virtual competition, you may want to prepare kits with all the necessary materials and deliver them to the participants in advance. This will ensure that everyone has the same materials to work with.

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Set the rules

Setting the rules for your gingerbread house competition is an important step to ensure that everyone is clear on the parameters and expectations. Here are some key guidelines to consider:

Teams or Individuals

Decide whether participants will be competing as teams or individuals. If you have a large group, it may be more manageable to divide into teams, with around two to four people per team. This will foster collaboration and also reduce the number of entries for judging. Mixed-age groups, such as teams comprising both children and adults, can add an interesting dynamic to the competition.

House Design

Determine whether there will be specific guidelines or restrictions on the size, shape, or style of the gingerbread houses. You could set a theme, such as a traditional house, a birdhouse, or a modern ski chalet, or let participants' creativity run wild.

Make-Ahead Embellishments

Clarify whether participants need to create all the decorations during the competition or if they are allowed to prepare some elements in advance. This could include baking and assembling the gingerbread pieces, creating intricate decorations, or even constructing entire houses, leaving only the final touches and embellishments for the competition.

Time Limit

Set a reasonable time limit for the competition, taking into account the ages, skill levels, and attention spans of the participants. For a virtual competition, it is advisable to keep the event shorter, ideally no longer than one to two hours, to prevent video call fatigue. For in-person competitions, you can opt for a longer duration, allowing participants to work in phases with breaks in between for socialisation or other activities.

Judging Criteria

Establish the criteria by which the gingerbread houses will be judged. You can have multiple categories to encourage creativity and ensure that different strengths are recognised. Examples of categories include Most Creative, Most Delicious-Looking, Largest Structure, Most Festive, Best Use of Icing, or Most Likely to Crumble. You can have participants act as judges, awarding prizes in multiple categories, or invite a panel of judges to select the winners.

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Decide on judging criteria

Deciding on the judging criteria for a gingerbread house competition is a very important step in the planning process. Here are some things to consider when establishing the criteria:

Complexity and Creativity

One of the most important aspects of a gingerbread house competition is the complexity and creativity of the designs. Encourage participants to think outside the box and come up with unique and innovative ideas. This could be in the form of unusual shapes, interesting themes, or unexpected decorations. For example, a competitor could create a gingerbread house in the shape of a carousel, as done by the Merry Mischief Bakers, who won the National Gingerbread House Competition in 2021.

Technical Skill

Another important criterion is the technical skill demonstrated in the construction and decoration of the gingerbread houses. Judges can look for clean lines, neat icing work, and overall structural stability. The use of intricate details, such as intricate royal icing work or carefully placed decorations, can also showcase a high level of technical proficiency.

Adherence to Theme

If you've established a theme for the competition, judging criteria can include how well each entry adheres to and interprets the theme. For example, if the theme is "Winter Wonderland," judges can look for houses that incorporate snowy landscapes, icy decorations, and creative uses of white or blue candies.

Overall Presentation

The overall presentation of each gingerbread house should also be considered. This includes the visual appeal, colour coordination, and the arrangement of decorations. Judges can look for houses that are aesthetically pleasing and demonstrate a clear sense of design.

Age and Skill Level

It is important to consider the age and skill level of the participants when establishing judging criteria. For example, if there are children participating, you may want to have a separate category or criteria that recognises their efforts, such as "Best Kid-Friendly Design" or "Most Colourful Creation."

Audience Participation

To make the competition more engaging, you can include the audience in the judging process. This can be done by having a "People's Choice" award, where guests can vote for their favourite gingerbread house. This not only involves everyone in the event but also ensures that a variety of designs are recognised and appreciated.

When deciding on the judging criteria, it is essential to communicate the criteria to the participants ahead of time so they can prepare accordingly and have a clear understanding of what the judges are looking for.

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The prizes you offer for your gingerbread house competition can be as creative as the competition itself. Since the fun of the competition is plenty of reward in itself, there's no need to go overboard with extravagant prizes. Keep them simple and entertaining, such as holiday-themed treats, hot cocoa mixes, or small gift cards to a local coffee shop. You could also offer themed prizes, such as baking supplies or festive decorations.

If you want to make the prizes more substantial, you could consider offering a grand prize, such as a larger gift card, a special trophy, or a year's supply of a certain food item. Alternatively, you could have multiple categories for prizes, such as "Most Creative," "Most Delicious-Looking," "Largest Structure," or "Most Festive." This will allow for more winners and a greater variety of prizes.

For a virtual gingerbread house competition, you could offer to send the winner a special care package filled with treats or a themed prize. If the competition is part of a larger event or organization, you could also offer membership or admission to future events as a prize.

Remember to keep the prizes appropriate to the scale of your competition and the participants involved. The prizes should enhance the festive spirit and encourage friendly competition, rather than being the sole focus of the event.

Frequently asked questions

If your party involves a lot of people, divide them into teams so there are fewer entries to judge. A team of two to four people is a good number. If your party has both children and adults, form mixed-age groups.

You can use graham crackers as the base for each team, providing a standard material to work with. You will also need royal icing, made with egg whites, powdered sugar, and cream of tartar, to act as an adhesive. Ask guests to bring edible decorations like mini marshmallows, gumdrops, mints, mini candy canes, and Hershey's Kisses.

The competition should be held in two parts. First, allow half an hour for teams to assemble the basic structure of the houses using only graham crackers and royal icing. After a one-hour break for the icing to harden, regroup for the second phase: the decorating portion. This should last for one hour, during which participants can use the candies provided.

Award prizes in multiple categories so that the gingerbread builders can also be the judges. Give each participant a ballot with three or four categories, such as Most Creative, Most Delicious-Looking, Largest Structure, and Most Festive. A team name should only appear once on each ballot to prevent participants from only voting for their team's work.

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