A unique tradition is sweetening the holiday season for a small neighborhood in northern Eden Prairie.
For about 12 years, Susan and Shaun Hicken have been hosting a gingerbread house-making party for their neighbors, continuing a tradition they nurtured for 10 years in their previous Edina neighborhood. This year’s event took place on Dec. 16.
“One of our favorite traditions is to have neighbors and dear friends over to make homemade gingerbread houses, and it’s not graham crackers and (frosting from a) can,” Susan said. “I make all the dough, and then I roll it out. I cut it out, and my husband puts in stained glass using butterscotch and Lifesavers. So, butterscotch makes it look like normal light.”
This annual gingerbread house-making gathering has become a cherished part of the neighborhood’s holiday season, offering everyone a chance to connect and share in the festive spirit.
“They’re little houses,” Susan explains, referring to the gingerbread houses. “It’s not like they’re two-story fancy houses, but they’re all homemade. So it’s just a labor of love, and we get together. It’s neat to see what everybody creates. We walk around, get ideas from each other, and catch up. In the past, the weather kept us from seeing each other much in the winter. But I know the weather’s been warmer this year.”
Initially inspired by Susan’s mother-in-law, this tradition has become a cornerstone of the Hicken’s holiday season.
“When I married my husband, it was just, ‘Hey, do you want to learn how to make gingerbread houses?’ And I was like, ‘Sure,’ and did it with their family for years,” she explained. “Then I got the recipe, the cutouts, and all the stuff, and just started doing it myself.”
The neighborhood has seen several families come and go, but the annual gingerbread house-making party helps maintain the community spirit. Susan and Shaun invite both current residents and those who have moved away.
“When we started it, we were all the same (families) for like seven years,” she said. “Then one neighbor moved out. We were such good friends that we invited them and the person who bought their house.”
Susan and Shaun prepare the basic structures of the gingerbread houses and the frosting in advance, and the neighbors take it from there.
“People sit down and start putting it together, decorating the sides and the front and back first,” Susan said. “Then, when they’re ready to assemble it, we help them put it together, including the roofs. After that, they can decorate around it if they want, adding trees, log cabins, snowmen, or sleds. We have such creative neighbors, and it’s really fun to see what they do.”
After the party, each neighbor takes their finished gingerbread house home.
“That’s kind of our gift,” she said. “We wanted to give our neighbors something they could have throughout the holiday. We have the board, and it has a light inside. They build their houses (on the board) around the light. When you plug it in, the light shines through the stained glass windows that my husband makes. Then they have that special decoration for the holiday.”
Susan and Shaun’s tradition involves breaking their gingerbread house in the sink on New Year’s Day before eating it. “We put it down there and smack it, and then it just splatters in the sink,” she said. “We have a big sink.”
Their gingerbread house-making event features a display of photos from past years, showcasing the growth of neighborhood children. Among these, a picture of a former neighbor who has passed away stirs fond memories.
Reflecting on the deeper meaning of the tradition, Susan said, “Isn’t that the best gift of Christmas? Time, just time together and making memories. You can’t get that back, you know.”
The Hicken’s children, ages 30, 27, and 22, no longer live at home. “They don’t come back for this, but often there is leftover candy, so when everybody gets home, we’ll have our own family gingerbread house party,” she said.
Susan hopes to continue the neighborhood gingerbread tradition for as long as possible.
“It’s one of our favorite traditions because it embodies Christmas to me,” she said. “Our next-door neighbor, who is Jewish, made a Hanukkah gingerbread house this year. Your faith doesn’t matter. It’s an activity that brings people together, and that’s what we love about it.”
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