what I want to give: traditions

I really love traditions. There is something extra special about the things you only do once a year. As a mom I am enjoying how different the same traditions are each year. We do a lot of things this time of year that we don’t do at any other time. We search for our Christmas tree, we write notes in our stockings, we sleep under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve Eve (yes that is the night before Christmas Eve)…and numerous more. This time of year I want to be sure I am giving my kids the gift of traditions…special little things we do to celebrate Christmas as a family. One of our traditions just for the sake of fun (and sugar highs) is making gingerbread houses – or at least our version.

When I only had one kid that was able to decorate a gingerbread house I would buy the kits from the store for $10.00. Well these days if I were going to spend $40.00 I’d rather it be on a bunch of these instead of gingerbread house kits! So we go for a cheaper version – graham cracker houses. The first round of our houses this year I couldn’t remember what I did last year to make the houses more stable. Then I remembered HOT GLUE!

Photo Tip: When you want to photograph young kids doing an indoor activity get everything set up before they come to the table. I got all the decorations in bowls, made the houses, set up the table for decorating before I even told the kids what we were doing. I also got my camera settings ready before they came to the table. This will help you be prepared to capture pictures instead of managing chaos.

When doing your prep work it is best if your toddler daughter cannot climb up to the table and attempt to steal the decorations.

My secret graham cracker house weapon…hot glue. Just glue those little crackers together and you have stable homes for all your sugary decorations. It sure beats trying to keep frosted houses in one piece when decorating. It also provides a great reason why your kids cannot eat their creations.

I gave her a mini-house with frosting and attempted to get her to decorate it. Her 2 year old brother did it when he was her age. She, obviously, was not interested in decorating the frosting.

Decorate. Eat. Decorate. Eat. Decorate. Eat.

This is one of those activities that I kind of would prefer to do by myself, but my kids won’t let me. I wonder if I could convince Chris to do a graham cracker house decorating night as a date…not sure he’d be as excited about it as I would be.

If you are wondering if my kids are still in their pjs for this….yes, they are. The best light in my kitchen is in the morning….and I wanted pictures. No sense in putting clothes on them before they made a grand sticky mess!

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  • Jack - I love the photos of the children covered in icing! So cute!

  • Laurie J - hot glue–why didn’t I think of that?! we had the houses crumbling, frosting covering the world MESS while we did this over the weekend (but still FUN) The only thing I got right was using graham crackers instead of the $10 kits–I hear ya on the 4 kids =$40 part!

  • Cassie - How fun! I can’t wait til our little guy is old enough to do crafts.

    And I have a bunch of “those,” and they are wonderful for just about everything you need a tiny bowl for πŸ™‚ Go for it!

  • stacey - we love doing this as well! if you’d like a little tip, we collect the little personal size milk carton’s (you know the small square one’s from school cafeterias?) they work like a charm! slop the frosting on, add crackers, wala! (ps i have a great frosting recipe that solidifies like a rock when it’s all said and done…let me know if you’d like it!) happy Christmas to you and your family!

  • tasha roe - genius on the hot glue!! it is totally my bff!

  • amanda torres - I read all these really wonderful posts, and I somehow my devious side says this, “What I Want to Give: Time (to myself)”. Pretty awful, I know. I love all these activities. We do gingerbread houses on Christmas Eve. I will definitely use the hot glue. Definitely!

  • Julie B - Ooh I will have to try this with the older kids, Regan will be my little decorations eater. I like the photo tip, although I find it to be a great mom tip also and I think I would use any excuse to hot glue πŸ™‚

  • Kim - Gingerbread houses are definitely tradition! Every Christmas Eve, each family (my sister actually asked about individual houses this year, but with 22 houseguests, I think it a bit much, yeah?) decorates a house. Last year, we did pull out the hot glue, but the house was later disqualified, because it has to remain totally edible πŸ˜‰ I would be interested in Stacey’s solidifying frosting though πŸ˜‰ Anyway, we have a time limit and once all is decorated, we line them up and Christmas day all the guests for dinner (total could be 40 ) anonymously vote on their favorite house, decorators cannot vote! My sister’s husband used to be the judge, but after her family winning two years in a row, we switched the judging method! LOVE the idea of sleeping under the tree on the eve eve of Christmas, we may just be starting a new tradition this year! πŸ™‚

  • Trinity - The 3rd grade class makes these at school and they also use the little milk cartons! Hannah was so excited to do them this year because their class collected 49 packages of candy to decorate with! That is a lot of candy and it made her very happy! I love traditions too and love hearing what other people’s traditions are….love this whole week of what I want to give!!!

  • ashley jensen - Hmmm never though of that! Graham crackers are a great alternative instead of gingerbread! My daughter loves to decorate cupcakes (which is just a glob of icing in one spot) so she would LOVE this. I should make my husband participate too! “Those” bowls are stinkin’ cute!

  • Megan - Love the houses, they’re on our list for next week. What a great picture of firecracker…looks like she likes the icing!

  • Angie Weaver - If you melt down sugar in a pan it works just like hot glue. You just dip the edges of the graham crackers in the melted sugar and stick together. Just watch out because the hot sugar burns twice as bad as hot glue! I have been loving your posts lately. They are so full of meaning!

  • lauren - we still kick it old school over at my house and make them from scratch with the royal icing.. but this is my first year with 3 babies and graham crackers and hot glue souund like a great idea!!! :)but then how will i secretly pick off of them after the kids are asleep…? πŸ˜‰

  • Krista Lund - we will be decorating houses on Sunday! I can’t wait!

  • Krista @ Blue Eyed Yonder - I just love the idea of “camping” out under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve Eve. My husband and I did that one year, but it was due to a little too much egg nog! πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing your traditions.

  • Stacey - Thanks for this awesome tip! Never would have thought to do that!

    Merry Merry Christmas!

  • Stephanie - We made these graham cracker houses this week! They turned out great! I love reading your Blog!

  • Caroline - Your blog just makes me so happy! I love it! πŸ™‚

  • Jacqueline - I just made these houses this week with my kids on one of their snow days… but we used frosting…and the heavier ones collapsed… i can’t believe i never thought to use my glue gun! brilliant! round two…

  • Lila - The photos of your children and the way you capture the light are amazing! I have been contemplating gingerbread houses lately, trying to decide whether to go for the big one or stick with the graham cracker version that I have done in the past. Your post has me leaning toward graham cracker :).

    Happy Holidays!

    p.s. LOVE those Atom Art Bowls!

  • Ashlee - Jammies are the best! I just got my tonsils out yeasterday and have no intent on wearing real pants anytime soon! Also, those little milk cartons that they sell milks in at schools work great to stabilize gramcracker houses.

  • Kelly - We do this every year too. It’s an after Christmas tradition we do with my in-laws in January when they come to visit for Christmas:Part 2. But instead of doing numerous little houses, I make up a big sugar cookie house and all together we transform it into a perfect candy cottage. It’s fun!

  • katie - You make me feel better about planning activities for my daughter around the best lighting for pictures! She’s too young for graham cracker houses this year, but I’ll file the hot glue tip away for next (or maybe the next…) year! Love the pictures you captured! Your kids have the most expressive eyes!

  • Jess - Your hot glue advice is genius! My gingerbread houses will never be an epic failure again!
    I love that you planned this for the morning light – the true mind of a photographer! Hehe!

  • nori - how smart! i love the hot glue idea!
    and firecracker is so cute all covered in frosting!!!

  • Sarah - My secret to making successful gingerbread houses is not only hot glue but a milk carton underneath. (like a big half and half one) We’ve been making these since I was a little girl, about 20 yrs, and hot glue the graham crackers to the carton and then to a piece of cardboard covered in foil. That way you can make sidewalks, bonfires, trees, and such!! I love all your Christmas traditions!

  • giozi - Ohh I don’t have really a tradition and now I would like to start with some things that I’m seeing via internet.
    Ohh I wanted to eat it too, is ther another way to paste them? πŸ™

    I only had a Christmas bow with bombons but this year I don’t want to take a risk. Would not last an hour with my littles.

    I love second close up of your girl. She has your eyes !!!


  • Colleen - Your children even look cute with icing all over them! It looks like they had a great time… such a great memory to file away.

  • Naomi - Oh my gosh, Firecracker looks exactly like you in that second photo of her eating the frosting!

  • Melissa W - Awesome idea with the hot glue! I’ll definitely be trying that out this year! Firecracker is such a sweetheart. πŸ™‚ Love all your photos! πŸ™‚

  • Melissa - What a great idea! Thank you for sharing!

  • Michelle - Great traditions!! Like a couple other comments, small milk cartons work perfectly! My daughter’s kindergarten class used these and we even used the icing (easy peasy recipe) to “glue” the graham crackers to the sides of the container and rooftops. All edible, because of course they want to eat them!

  • ria - I think pj’s are the perfect attire for gingerbread house decorating. Sweet pics.

  • Leanne - brilliant! I should tell my sons teacher about using hot glue. she is going to be putting together 20 houses for the kids to decorate for next Tuesday. Can you say CRAZY?!

  • Lori - love it – thanks for sharing the tips!!!

  • maria - the hot glue is genius, definantly trying it this way next year, thanks for sharing!! and merry Christmas!!

  • bb - this year at school, my son’s entire 2nd grade made gingerbread houses. they started with empty (single serving) milk cartons. they iced the bottom of the carton and attached the carton to a paper plate. next, they iced the rest of the carton and then placed graham crackers on top of the icing (which acted like glue — and the cartons are in the exact shape of houses). they then used icing to attached candy, etc.. to the houses. i was amazed at how well it all stayed together. just thought i’d mention it in case you ever want to forgo the hot glue gun (the 2nd graders were able to do their entire project themselves and the houses didn’t fall apart since they were leaning against milk cartons).

  • Julie O'Dell - So stinkin CUTE!

  • the whyte house - oh, that ornery face! precious!

  • Heather - Ashley, I love your blog! Can I have coffee with you sometime? πŸ™‚ Oh wait…that’s impossible with four little kids! We have a lot in common…though I’m a just a couple of years ahead of you. I too am from OK (though I live in TX now). I too have 3 boys and 1 girl. I too am a pastor’s wife. And I too love family traditions, but we’ve yet to do gingerbread houses. Next week is craft week at our house, so I’m so glad I read to GLUE them together! πŸ™‚ I’ve been posting on my blog about our favorite family tradition…new ornaments each year…and it’s been fun to go back and write about what each one means!
    Blessings to you!

  • Heather - Oh…and BTW…you’ve inspired me. We’re going to ring the bell at Hobby Lobby next week! SO EXCITED!

  • Carolyn - I love the photos of your girl with icing all over her face – especially the first one! She looks just a little bit uncertain…kind of like “should I be eating this?”
    Good tip about getting everything ready before commencing activities with kids. I should remember to do this more often.

  • Kari - So adorable…I don’t blame her for eating her house. Also love the glue…I use hot glue on everything. XOXO

  • Jackie - If you use a milk carton as a frame, it is even easier. The child-size cartons that they give during lunch work perfectly, but you could always use the quart size and just cut off the bottom. Use a serrated knife to cut the square cracker into two triangles for the ends.

  • Catherine - I love, love traditions too. And I love reading your blog. It makes me happy. πŸ™‚ We call Christmas Eve Eve Christmas Adam, because Adam came before Eve right?

  • Robyn - something that works just as good as hot glue – hot, caramelized sugar! I had to help make 40 little graham cracker gingerbread houses for my daughters kindergarten class the other night, and they had an electric skillet, put some sugar in and cooked it til brown and liquidy. you just dip the edges in and stick them together. it works amazingly!!! no collapsing houses, and it dries super fast!

  • lindsey - at the preschool where i work they use empty milk cartons to stick the graham crackers to with icing and form the house.. it’s works well and still “edible”
    p.s. beautiful pics (as usual)!

  • Better than Expected « One Small Happy Family - […] been contemplating making gingerbread houses (using graham crackers) with the girls when I saw this blog.  I was inspired by her ingenuity to use hot glue to keep the graham crackers from […]

  • Yanet - Ashley,

    One thing we’ve used in our family are the little individual milk cartons to hold up the house. We use the icing to make it stick. In other words, we spread the icing on the outside of the milk carton then put the graham cracker on top of that. Make sense?

  • kathy carr - At my daughter’s school they also fixed graham crackers to milk cartons with icing, but they did it THE DAY BEFORE so they would be more stable. Genious. I would have totally used hot glue if I was in charge. But what I did not anticipate was my 3 year old hiding it in her room and eating it!!! Glad they used icing!

  • Kelly - this post is full of such good tips! Thanks!! The photo tip, glue gun tip, managing chaos, staying in pjs . . . great stuff. Kelly

  • Becca Rojo - We use melted almond bark. It is edible and hardens really fast for a stable house and easy decorating. Keep it warm in the crock pot so you don’t have to run back and forth to the microwave.

  • Joy - I second the milk carton suggestion. It makes is very, very easy and then they/you CAN eat it! (minus the milk carton)