It’s finally here, the day I’ve been looking forward to all year. I’m finally sharing my Gingerbread Nativities with y’all. This is one Christmas tradition that you’re definitely going to want to add this year!
Be sure to stay tuned at the end of this article for links to some other great gingerbread decor and DIY projects from some of our favorite crafters.
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For over 20 years now, my parents have been hosting gingerbread house parties and with it they bake and assemble 20-40 house, fill their house with coworkers or neighbors and their families and turn all their kids loose with bags of royal icing and bowls of candy. As you can imagine, it’s quite an exciting and oftentimes messy affair. But nonetheless, it’s just not the Christmas season without it. So, you can easily see why that now that I have young children of my own I was eager to continue on with the family tradition at my house. I, of course, had to put my own spin on it, as I usually do, and decided to make up my own pattern and change up the theme a little bit.
Because my children are still quite young, 2 and 4 years old, I’m always looking for ways to make sure that we’re keeping the holiday season full of Christ, the true reason for the season. I wanted them to know that He is the most important thing and the reason we are all celebrating each December. Now, don’t get me wrong, Santa still comes to our house and we still enjoy lots of fun secular Christmas traditions too, but with it, I wanted more Jesus and more teaching moments wherever I could add them. And these gingerbread house nativities provided the perfect opportunity.
Now each year, I bake and assemble 20-40 gingerbread nativities with mangers and bring them to one of our December small group bible study gatherings. And there, we turn the kids loose on piping bags filled with royal icing and bowls full of candy, cereal, and other edible house decorations.
The best part of each of these is that the kids take home a nativity that’s all their own. Complete with a manger and a baby Jesus. It’s the perfect mix of truly celebrating Jesus’s birth while incorporating a really fun family tradition.
To start, I make a batch of my vegan gingerbread house dough. Then I use my nativity template pieces, which are free for you to use at the end of this article. I can usually get 4 complete nativities out of each batch of dough and the process moves pretty quickly once you get going.
Some years I have found that molasses can be in short supply and during these years, I tend to revert to my parents version of the recipe that uses 5 cups of flour instead of 4 and 1/4 C of molasses and 3/4 C of corn syrup instead of the reverse. This way I use considerably less molasses each batch and each jar lasts a lot longer for me.
I start by rolling out half of the dough directly on my air bake baking sheet until its about 1/4″-1/8″ thick. I prefer to use my airbake sheets because they don’t have a raised lip on the edges, but if all you have on hand are baking sheets with edges, just roll your dough out on parchment paper and lift the parchment paper to your baking sheet when ready to bake.
Next, I cut out my 4 back pieces and then usually a few sides, mangers, or Mary and Joseph’s on the edge. Then bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-12 minutes. Once they’re baked, I retrace all of my cuts using a sharp paring knife and then slide a thin metal spatula under each of the pieces to release them from the cookie sheet. On my second sheet, I usually cut out as many roof pieces as I can fit, and then on my last sheet (made from remnants of my first two sheets) I’m able to cut out the remaining pieces needed.
A few template cutting tips:
- roll your dough directly on your cookie sheet or on parchment paper
- start with the largest template pieces first. I usually cut all four back pieces on the first tray and then fill in the sides with some of the smaller pieces. On the second tray I usually cut all roof pieces and then fill in the side with some smaller pieces. And on the last tray I cut out all remaining pieces needed.
- When cutting out the mangers, leave the excess dough between the legs and next to the legs in place for baking so that the manger legs don’t swell in the oven.
- Also with regards to the mangers: DO NOT FLIP the pattern over, cut all of them the same way. That way the legs will interlock when you face them underside to underside for assembly.
- Once your gingerbread is finished baking make sure to retrace all of your cuts with a sharp paring knife and loosen them from the cookie sheet using a thin metal spatula when they’re still warm
When it’s time to assemble my nativities, I whip up a batch of my royal icing and fill a piping bag with it.
The first step in assembling is to make a bondage strip for your roof pieces. This adds significantly to the overall structural integrity of my nativity creche. You take a small piece of brown paper bag about 3″ x 7″ and fold it in half. Then pipe royal icing on it and affix it to the two roof pieces like a book binding. For this structure you want to be sure to bind the two short edges together so the bottoms of the pieces fold inwards to each other. I then usually let this dry for at least 30 minutes before I assemble the rest of the house structure.
During this time, I glue together my manger pieces with royal icing, by facing the undersides together and interlocking the legs. Then I prop them up on each side with drinking glasses, canned goods or even apples. Really whatever you can find to keep them in position. Once in position, I pipe a line of royal icing at the bottom of the manger, where the two sides come together to form a V. It is important to do this in a part of your kitchen where they won’t be bothered for a while as they will need a few hours to really firm up. I usually do them before bed and they’re ready to go in the morning.
The next task I usually do is make all of my baby Jesus’s. This is truly my favorite part and is so unbelievably easy! Gather your few needed supplies: Small wood beads, a fine tip black sharpie, a bowl of sugar and your piping bag filled with royal icing. Switch your piping tip to the largest round you have, I usually chose a Wilton, number 8. Then, take your wood beads and sharpie and draw two sleepy eyes and a little mouth on one side. Next, hold the wood bead by the top of the head and pipe a coil of royal icing. I usually go around 3-5 times for a perfect “swaddled cloth” look. Then lay your baby Jesus in his swaddling cloths on his back in your bowl of sugar. This way the royal icing will set up without him having a flat spot on his back and kids can place Him in and out of the manger as they see fit throughout the whole season.
If you want all parts to be edible you could always track down some peach colored small gumballs, but I just couldn’t bring myself to imagine eating the baby Jesus, so I was happy to use something that isn’t edible here.
Now comes the final house assembly. Pick out a base to use and gather your pieces and piping bag of royal icing. For this year’s base I decided to use a silver tray that I had painted white earlier in the year. I intend to use this gingerbread nativity scene as our centerpiece during our Nativity Gingerbread House party in a few weeks so I wanted it to have a more permanent look to it, but you can use anything. Usually, when I make bulk amounts of these nativities, I use 10″ cake circles and I glue two of them together so they’re a little more durable.
Pay close attention to this next part because this is the part I seem to forget year after year after year. Pipe royal icing on 3 sides of your back piece. Be sure to PIPE THE ICING RIGHT ON THE EDGE of the bottom 3 sides. If you don’t pipe the icing on the edge of the short sides, your side walls will be too long on your finished house and will stick out past your roof line in front. Then position your back piece close to the back of your base. Next, pipe icing on one of the long edges of a side piece and position it next to the back piece. Repeat for the other side and your ready for your roof. Pipe icing along the top edges of the sides and back pieces, open up your roof and rest it on top.
Your house is now assembled and it’s time to decorate. Because of the prep work you did on the roof pieces earlier your roof is fully secure at this point to decorate immediately if you should so choose. I personally like the look of cereal pieces on the roof. This time I went with a cinnamon toast crunch, but I’ve also used Chex, Life, or Frosted Shredded Wheat but you can use anything you dream up cereal or otherwise.
Other things I used to decorate this time around included toasted coconut. You can either buy it toasted or toast your own by buying unsweetened coconut flakes and toasting them in the oven, in a dry frying pan on the stove, or even in the microwave. I also like to use animal crackers for the donkeys, cows, sheep, horses, and camels that fit the scene.
If you use my Mary and Joseph templates you can see how I piped some details on them using the same royal icing. They also stand up very well by using one of the extra little square gingerbread pieces as a bit of a tripod behind them. You could even leave them free moving this way so you’d have a complete play house nativity.
The best part about this activity is that you are only limited by your own imagination. I’ve seen amazing roofs made out of tortilla chips, log cabins out of pretzel rods, amazing marshmallow sheep, and even the occasional stone or “brick” walled nativity using various candies. They always come out looking so unique!
Here are my free templates so you can make your own this year and years to come. On page one you will find all nativity structure templates, manger templates, and templates for Mary and Joseph and on page two you will find my favorite gingerbread recipe (two versions) and my favorite Royal Icing recipe, so you have everything you need in one place.
Now that you’ve caught the gingerbread bug, you’ll also love these other great gingerbread decor and DIY ideas from some of our favorite crafters:
DIY Cardboard Gingerbread Garland from My Family Thyme
Gingerbread Wreath DIY from Kippi At Home. Make an adorable no-sew Gingerbread Christmas Wreath with this easy step-by-step tutorial.
How to Create a European Dish Garden with Gingerbread Accents at From Farmhouse to Florida
This faux gingerbread garland makes a great addition to your gingerbread decorations this year. Uses gingerbread wood cutouts and ribbon. From A Life of Balance
How to make salt dough ornaments with two pantry staples. This easy, no-bake salt dough recipe makes great crafts for kids and adults alike. From Chalking Up Success
Decorative planter pick from Sustain my Craft Habit.