Our Ginger Notre Dame-inance


As the sun began to set on what would have been an ordinary day at the beginning of the third millennium, the light shone through the window to strike two ordinary young scholars. They were hungry. But they were also privy to a different hunger. Watching how the light passed unrefracted through the simple dining hall window, they yearned for the aesthetic elevation that only a stained glass window could provide. But then again, they also wanted to eat.

How, then, could they satisfy these both the most base and most cerebral of yearnings? They thought long and hard. Finally, an electronic courier proclaimed an event of capital proportions: “Subject: Gingerbread House Contest RIGHT NOW!”

The theme: architecture around the world. Our protagonists knew they had happened upon the solution to their twin problems. They would build a gingerbread house that would not only satisfy the common hunger, but would also lift the spirit in the manner of great constructions past. The mission was clear: to create a cathedral, but not just any cathedral: one where spice drops could refract light in such a way as to pierce the hearts of lowly, overworked gingerbread men with love for their candy gods. They would attempt nothing less than the construction of the greatest Gothic cathedral of all time, Notre-Dame de Paris, entirely in sugar.

Donc, nous allons faire du gingerbreadhousemaking!

Arriving in the dining hall, we were struck once again by the enormous magnitude of our project. Past cathedrals had taken centuries to complete; we had a peckish two hours to recreate this grandeur. We began by gathering our resources. From one corner of the dining hall we collected graham crackers to serve as the walls. Then, we carefully mixed our chosen mortar, combining powdered sugar with water to concoct a glue that would hold for the ages—or at least until Christmas. Finally, we collected our most precious artisanal creations. Carefully crafted gummy bears would serve as the line of saints that flank the facade of our cathedral. Pull ‘n’ Peel Twizzlers would form delicate tracery, and peppermints would substitute for portholes. Hershey’s Kisses would adorn the tops of our tallest towers. And spice drops would comprise Notre-Dame’s trademark rose windows. After centuries away, indulgence would finally return to the Church.

At first, setbacks threatened to foil our quest. Indeed, the very cardboard foundation upon which we began our construction was unsteady and pushed our walls apart during construction. Our mortar was too wet and couldn’t withstand the forces of gravity and the uneven terrain. It seemed that the spice drop windows were too heavy, our ambitions too great for our capabilities.

And yet with steady faith and a steady supply of nourishing sugar, we persevered through thick and thin layers of icing, only eating it when we needed the strength to continue. As we put the crowning touches on our delicate handiwork, we were aware of the grandeur of what we had accomplished. Already the gummy bear gypsies began to congregate at the front steps. Neither war nor revolution, neither tableshaking nor hungry bystanders could destroy what we had created that day.

Finally, we stood before the last judgment, a trial we were well prepared to face. House tutors walked around the dining hall, asking questions like “What does your gingerbread house represent?” (the House of God!) and “Is it to scale?” (YES!). Aliza took pains to explain the careful reasoning behind our choice of structure: “We wanted to put the Christian element back into Christmas, extending it even to the possibly Pagan custom of gingerbread house making.” Marianne took pains to explain the careful reasoning behind Aliza’s choice of satire: “She’s Jewish,” she said, pointing.

In the end, Notre-Dame came in second place, losing only to a pagoda over a pond adorned with gumdrop lily-pads. Despite the cathedral’s dominance over many other sugar constructions, the sun, though setting in the West, was rising in the East. The contest was over, and we entered the Mather servery to discover that tonight’s entree was General Tso’s Chicken.

­­—Staff writer Aliza H. Aufrichtig can be reached at ­­—Staff writer Marianne F, Kaletzky can be reached at