Gingerbread houses aren’t built in a day

This year’s Gingerbread Village display / Photographer: Ellie Wright

What is it exactly that makes an excellent gingerbread house? Is it the design? the creativity? The blueprints and planning? On Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, Island Market put out its long-awaited display of dazzling gingerbread dwellings. The wonderful reason for this event: Orcas Island’s Fourth Annual Gingerbread House Contest, sponsored by the Funhouse Commons and Island Market.

As according to the Funhouse’s website and guidelines, 12 winners in total were selected for awards in Best in Show, measuring overall greatness; Creativity, a focus on originality and artistry; and Technicality, highlighting innovative and intricate design. Within each of the four age groups, one winner of each category was chosen, with Leslie Gable (6 & under), June Most (7-12), Juliette McKenney (13-17), and Elysse Hawes (18+) winning awards for Best in Show.

Besides being able to admire this year’s selection, I also got an inside view of the competition, entering with my snow-covered gingerbread brownstone, topped with a prancing unicorn. It was an experience completely unique to the island, something I never would have imagined before moving here. It was equal parts thrilling and stressful, with a few late nights of last-minute rolling, cutting, and baking compressed between nights of sleep. There was also some mild gingerbread trauma involved afterward, as I distinctly remember stopping at the co-op after school, later that week, hoping to buy a bar of chocolate, quickly shuddering at the ginger-spiced bars lining the end cap. While I believe my love of gingerbread is already quickly returning, I am still extraordinarily glad that I entered the contest. It was much harder than I thought it would be, yet I walked away with a first-time technical award and some irreplaceable winter memories.

Looking back, the contest was a sugary-spiced and highly festive affair, complete with everything from iced penguin-camel hybrid cookies to soil-scattered gingerbread greenhouse floors. This year’s display proved that there is no “right way” to go about making a gingerbread house, showcasing how even the most different houses can still remind us of all things merry. It was the perfect atmosphere for the community and youth to come together and enjoy the holidays, as well as bring some spirit to our beloved local market. The houses will be available for everyone to enjoy at Island Market up until Christmas Eve, where they will reside between the arches of a glittering winter wonderland.