There's a joke (or a parable) that goes like this: Two young fish are swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way. The older fish nods at them and casually says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two fish keep on swimming, and after a minute or two, one of them looks at his friend and says, "What the heck is water?"
Okay, so it's not a very funny joke. But it's a good illustration of where a lot of people find themselves when it comes to Christmas. They wrap presents, bake cookies, watch The Miracle on 34th Street and sing along with Jingle Bells, but they have no idea what Christmas is or why it is important.
As a church, you have a unique opportunity to provide a warm and welcoming space for families to have fun, make memories and most importantly, reflect on the wonder of the God-with-us child coming to be near us in our darkness, chaos, and brokenness.
Each Christmas is filled with incredible opportunities to touch people’s lives on a deep level. This is your moment. A chance every year to spread the news of Jesus Christ coming to earth as a tiny baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. You can pull off some amazing things because people’s hearts are already open and yearning.
In my first post I shared with you about The Christmas Experience—a 3-part beloved tradition that our church celebrates each year. If you haven’t read it, I suggest that you do it first, since it provides a framework for the entire event. Click here to read the first part. Afterwards you can resume reading this post; and I promise it will make more sense.
Gingerbread Creations is a chance for families to slow down amidst the holiday frenzy and enjoy meaningful moments with their children while working on cookie and candy structures. (If you are new to the gingerbread house making, you might enjoy reading about its interesting origin here.)
Like The Manger Project, this activity is completely self-guided, so families come and go as they please. Because of its nature and its high popularity among our families, Gingerbread Creations always gets the most room (our church auditorium). We refer to this area as Mary’s Kitchen. (The Manger Project area is called Joseph’s Workshop.)
Each year we have around 100-120 people participate in Gingerbread Creations. Would you like to know how big our crew is for this particular activity? Between two and four people! There’s so much to love about this old Christmas tradition, and the fact that it doesn’t take a whole army of people to run it makes it even more attractive.
One person is the main coordinator. The rest assist with preparing the kits, buying the supplies, setting up the tables, and then staying through the event welcoming people and making sure everyone has plenty of supplies and a clear direction for the project. Our crew is always ready to lend a hand with the building process. (If you’ve ever built a gingerbread house, you know how tricky it can be to keep all four walls standing upright while the frosting is drying.) This crew also stays 30 minutes after the event is over to take care of the clean-up.
We don’t charge any money for this event and we cover the cost of graham crackers, frosting, tablecloths, and other supplies from the children’s ministry budget. However each family is expected to bring everything they will need to decorate their gingerbread houses (small candies, marshmallows of different sizes, cookies, gumdrops or pretzels). They won’t need much to cover graham cracker-sized houses, and whatever extras they have, they can share with other families at their table.
Preliminary registration is a must, since you’ll want to know how many kits you need to prepare. We make up to 20 extra kits because we always have totally unexpected yet absolutely welcomed guests. We want them to feel included. (The registration form along with all the promo materials can be found at this link.)
During the registration, we ask families to specify how many kits they will be completing, since some families want to work on one all together and other families want each child to experience the creative process on their own. Either way, you need to know how many kits and how many people to expect.
Families tend to come into this area and ‘set up shop’ with all of their coats and supplies, and then travel to all other activities from here. This requires lots of seats, so be prepared.
Long or round tables are equally acceptable for this activity. We prefer the round ones since they foster direct eye contact and communication. We cover the tables with disposable red and green tablecloths to spare ourselves from scrubbing the dried up frosting, and also to add to the festive atmosphere.
Each table will require 1 pair of scissors for cutting open the frosting and any stubborn candy/decorating packages brought by the families.
The Gingerbread Creations crew will assemble all the supplies, pre-cut the crackers and count out the crackers into baggies ahead of time. Then, on the day of the event, they scoop icing into heavy duty, slider bags (but don’t cut the corner off yet!), and place them together on a tin tray for ease of assembly. This tray also allows the families to keep their houses together as they transport them home at the end of the evening. Each kit requires:
- 5 sheets of graham crackers (note: we get 6-10 extra boxes for broken cracker replacements)
- 1 plain zip baggie (for the graham crackers mentioned above)
- 1 cup of frosting (we use prepared bakery-quality icing bought in bulk from a local grocery store bakery)
- 1 baggie per kit (Hefty/Ziploc freezer bags with slider & plain pointed corners, not stand-to-fill)
- Aluminum sheet cake pan
The instructions for easy assembly, including pictures, can be found in the Resource Pack.
We print and post these instructions at several places throughout the room, but especially at our newest addition of the event: hot glue gun tables. We have found through the years that some families really struggle with using the frosting to actually keep the houses together. Although the struggle and team-work is part of the fun, we have now provided 2 tables with 4-5 hot glue guns each (and lots and lots of extra glue sticks) for those who want to put the houses together without all the struggle.
Once all of the kits are assembled, we place 4 on each table and stack the remaining kits on a cart or table near the door. We expect families to arrive at staggered times. Some will arrive extra early if they are participating in the Cookie Baking Contest and others will come late if they are doing The Manger Project first and Gingerbread Creations second.
Throughout the evening people will be in and out, and our team keeps their eyes on leftover kits on tables, as well as who is in need of a table or kits. Our job is to assist every family as they have a need. We are setting the stage for them to have a ton of fun as they build cookie houses but more importantly to create memories that will last for many years to come.
Just like The Manger Project, Gingerbread Creations event is centered around two things—families and simplicity. We celebrate the gift of family by creating an environment where people can sit around the table and simply enjoy being in each other’s company while working on a fun project together. There is an amazing richness and surprising depth in this experience for families.
In the next and final post of this series I will share with you how the Christmas Cookie Contest fits into this community event we call The Christmas Experience.
If you like this article so much that you want to send my wife and me on a coffee date, that would be lovely. (Coffee Date launchpad is HERE.) Thank you so much!