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Gingerbread rally: a man in a red tie, flour-covered children and lots of joy of creation

The traditional gingerbread rally, organised by SEB Heategevusfond in December, helped bring a total of 550 packages of gingerbread dough, 50 rolling pins and 50 sets of gingerbread cutters to children’s shelters and substitute homes. In some homes, volunteers also helped out with the “rallying”, whereas in others, families baked on their own.

Children and teachers were very happy about the gingerbread dough, cutters and rolling pins. No sooner had the present arrived than the children started asking when they would start baking the gingerbread. Lots of families got flour on their hands over several days.

Flour-covered children and the scent of Christmas

In the families that accepted guests, anticipation was great – at some homes, smaller children were so excited that they even missed their nap. Hair was combed and aprons put on early on. At first, 11-year-old Ruslan thought he was not going to take part; but once the guests had arrived, everything went smoothly and he eagerly joined in. It is very important for children at shelters and substitute homes to see someone come and do something together with them. When a teacher asked 6-year-old Nikita what first comes to his mind when he recalls the gingerbread baking, he replied: “Well, I baked together with that man in the red tie!”

Gingerbread baking is a part of Christmas, something that is done to prepare for the arrival of Santa Clause. Once the baking began, we felt that special warmth and brightness creep into our hearts; afterwards, the sweet smell of gingerbread floated throughout the house. For children at shelters, who change every year, this might be something they haven’t experienced before. Rolling the dough, working with the cutters, and decorating the gingerbread, was especially exciting for the little ones who did it for the first time. Afterwards, they were covered in flour, just like the floor, but this made it even more fun.

Like playing in a sandbox

Everyone had the chance to get their hands covered with flour and dough, even though the little ones maybe did not even realise what they were doing – it seemed to them like playing in a sandbox with the cutters. And the unbaked gingerbread laid on the baking tray often seemed to go missing, too. The unbaked and already baked gingerbread filled the children up quite nicely and no-one had room for dinner that evening, not to mention the time to watch cartoons.

The majority of the children were already experienced in baking gingerbread and some homes even helped out others with the baking, making gingerbread to sell for charity as well. The teachers noticed that this made the children feel more responsible and they baked and shaped the gingerbread more carefully than in previous years.

Enjoying the treats and smoothing the relations

In their feedback, the teachers noted that shaping the dough does not differ much from their sculpting lesson – the movements of the hands and fingers contribute to the development of the children, stimulating the development of the speech as well. It is a fun game and the most natural way for children to express themselves. Of course, everybody had lots of fun, and in between the baking, the soon to be ending year was discussed and school experiences exchanged.

Among other things, Christmas traditions were also discussed and the question of why gingerbread is baked during Christmas was discussed. Children also talked about what they used to do at their real homes during Christmas and why in quite a few homes, Christmas was often not celebrated. Quite a few children asked if they could give their gingerbread to their mother, if she comes to visit. A couple of older boys put the gingerbread in their school bags, stating that it will be a little present for their girlfriends.

One of the teachers noted that the girls, who generally smarten themselves up when going to school, forgot about their make-up altogether and were so genuine, child-like and cheerful during the gingerbread rally, with their faces covered with flour. Boys are not poorer bakers when compared to girls, but they preferred eating the gingerbread made by girls, though after getting a taste of it, quite a few young men became interested in the whereabouts of the dough and in baking, too.

Onto the tray and into the stomach, into the stomach and onto the tray

If in the song, three gingerbread men come from cookie land, in reality, the gingerbread rally amounted to dozens more visitors who came from the kitchens of their homes, their skirts and trouser knees covered with flour, icing on their noses and a circle of dough surrounding their smiling mouths.

Everyone who has ever baked gingerbread knows that the dough also tastes great and some of it goes straight into the stomach instead of onto the baking tray. The colourful hard candies that were supposed to be used as windows for gingerbread houses were also disappearing too fast. A spicy dough turned out to be too spicy to be eaten just like that, so most of the gingerbread made from it was saved and used to decorate the Christmas tree.

At some homes, children mainly made spruces and stars out of the dough, whereas in others, they made hearts and half-moons, and at others, animal shapes and angels. Many children were very creative about it, cutting fantastic creatures out of the dough with knives and building fancy houses with the help of hard candies.

But the construction of a complicated gingerbread house is not really important because the first star with your fingerprints on it is such a great achievement and brings so much joy! It was great to watch how a big young man who sometimes tends to bully others calmly rolled out his dough and kindly showed the younger ones how to do it, a teacher wrote.

Gingerbread made with your own hands is the sweetest

Most of the bakers-artists shared a conspicuous attribute – they all tried really hard. And when looking for even more general trends in the gingerbread rally, we noticed that the little bakers were even tougher than the big ones – at quite a few homes, a few big ones disappeared after every tray, but the little ones lasted bravely till the very end. When the gingerbread was left to cool down and decorated, the little ones eagerly kept trying them out with their fingers to see whether the icing was already hard as the older ones explained they can only eat the gingerbread once the icing has hardened.

Also, at a few homes, the children eagerly planned to save some gingerbread for decorating the Christmas tree, but in reality, the gingerbread tasted so good that there was nothing left for decorations. And if there was something, it did not last long...

The children were unanimous in that self-baked gingerbread – exactly the ones cut out, put on the tray, and decorated with their own hands – is the sweetest.

What do a smart phone, a dumbbell, a football and a guitar have in common?

Mallar started cutting out the shapes for a house, but after baking, the walls and the roof did not fit together for some reason. But this small mistake in measurement did not prevent him from decorating the house, and what is most important – the house, even though a little crooked, tasted great.

It is probably not that difficult to find an answer to the question of what a spruce, a star and a heart have in common. But if we raise the difficulty level and ask what a smart phone, a dumbbell, a football and a guitar have in common, only the children of one family can answer this in the context of the gingerbread rally – the youngsters who made gingerbread shapes characterising themselves – a smart phone, a dumbbell, a football and a guitar...

Experiment with cupcakes, kitchen record and visit by the Rescue Board

In a house where gingerbread was baked on several days, some experimenting with passion worthy of a cooking show was witnessed. Namely, a family decided to do something completely new in the third round of baking – gingerbread cupcakes. Even though getting the cupcakes out of the pans was a bit of a struggle, nothing was wasted: the gingerbread crumbs were turned into a Christmassy curd pudding.

In another house, gingerbread was baked almost every other day. Children made gingerbread when guests came over; they also made them as presents for their parents and grandparents. Teachers know that the more hands-on activity for the children, the better, so the girls were allowed to enjoy themselves in the kitchen: in the evenings, older girls could make gingerbread completely on their own, and peeping at them, the teacher also had a true Christmas feeling in her heart, seeing how peaceful and friendly they were towards each other.

A few houses even broke their family record in how many children and adults the kitchen could hold at once: after all, everyone wanted to be a part of the gingerbread rally. Even the children whose hands do not really work the way they want to or who do not understand much about gingerbread baking were there with others and participated in their own way. Those who lacked the patience to get busy in the kitchen one day found some the next day.

Eleven-year-old Karina, however, tried to bake on her own while the teacher was outside, shovelling snow. The gingerbread remained in the oven for too long, so the fire alarm started beeping and the rescue team arrived to check on them. The outcome was black gingerbread and a house full of excitement.

Cake baking and artistic talent

Twenty-one-year-old Sanna and her 19-year-old sister Sandra were very glad when the dough and gingerbread cutters arrived, and undertook a major round of baking and cutter testing together with the social worker that very same night, and baked a batch of gingerbread for the Christmas party. The girls were very pleased and promised to buy more icing so that the gingerbread would be nicely decorated. On the following days, they baked and decorated even more till they ran out of dough. The girls made large gingerbread hearts with writings on them for gifts as well. Sanna noted that this large-scale and high-spirited baking gave her the new skills needed to build a fancy gingerbread house a couple of days later.

Major talents were revealed, of course, in the decorating stage. The little ones were especially eager to decorate: they made dots, frills and laces and wrote their names with the help of the teacher, too. Colourful patterns, stars, numbers, Christmas wishes and all kinds of dots, stripes and spirals were made. Of course, some icing went into the mouth instead of on top of the gingerbread, but this is part of the business – a chef always needs to taste their food! The next great moment – after eating, of course – was when every child tried to find on the gingerbread plate the sweet pieces of art they decorated all by themselves.

Next to rolling, shaping and icing, other fine works of art were also practiced. At a family house, a poem was compiled in honour of the guests and the family themselves, and the author of the poem should probably be referred to as “co-authorship”. Here it is:

Our house is filled with a sweet gingerbread smell,
friends helped us bake the gingerbread.
Good wishes in our hearts, our fingers working fast,
soon the crispy gingerbread was ready.
Thank you for the Christmas joy,
we await the arrival of the Santa Clause, nibbling on gingerbread.

Cooperation and emotional sharing

In some houses, at the initiative of the children, the gingerbread rally took the shape of a contest. They formed groups, and afterwards assessed who had the most beautiful gingerbread. At the beginning, girls had the boys rolling the dough, while they checked on the internet how and how long the gingerbread needs to stay in the oven. When decorating, they proposed ideas on what perfect gingerbread should look like. After decorating, there was a vote to determine the group whose gingerbread was the most beautiful – the children agreed that all are beautiful in their own way.

Seeing the enthusiasm in the children’s eyes, the teachers deliberately remained in the background and let the children work on their own, helping out only where needed and when asked. The children were active and extremely creative. And the greatest thing – during the baking, the bigger ones and the little ones nicely and playfully shared all tasks so that everything would operate smoothly in the kitchen. Some rolled the dough, some shaped the gingerbread, some iced and others transported the baked gingerbread from the tray to a plate.

Again, the teachers noted that doing something together with the children is the best way of getting to know each other and for both the children and the adults to learn something. Volunteers who do things together with the children also help them share their emotions. The children were more eager to talk about what is on their mind, the things that bring them joy and also the things it hurts them to talk about – their home, family and close ones.

Triin Lumi
MTÜ SEB Heategevusfond

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