Out & About: Gingerbread Festival housed across Upper Valley

  • Freya Langley, of Lebanon, created "The Sugar and Spice Snowglobe" for The Family Place’s annual Gingerbread Festival. (Photograph courtesy of The Family Place)

  • Freya Langley, of Lebanon, created "The Sugar and Spice Snowglobe" for The Family Place’s annual Gingerbread Festival. (Photograph courtesy of The Family Place)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2020 10:15:36 PM
Modified: 12/2/2020 10:15:27 PM

NORWICH — Each year when the colder weather starts to roll around, Freya Langley starts sketching out ideas for The Family Place’s annual Gingerbread Festival.

“The first couple of years it was really me decorating what my dad made,” said Langley, 16, who said she’s participated in the festival since she was around three years old. “It’s sort of become a tradition in our family. We don’t have a lot of traditions but this is one those things.”

As the Lebanon High School junior got older, she began to experiment with different shapes and materials, including candy glass. Over the years, she’s created a Victorian-era bird cage, a flying saucer and a doghouse. This year, Langley has created a snowglobe nestled in an ornament box. It took her around two hours a day over the course of about a week to complete.

“In order to get that dome shape for the glass piece of the snowglobe, I used a balloon field with water and then poured the hot sugar over it,” she said. “Everything about it is edible. Some of it might not taste very good, but it is all technically edible.”

This includes spring roll paper Langley dyed using food coloring to mimic tissue paper.

“I would not recommend eating it,” Langley said.

Instead of being displayed at Tracy Hall in Norwich this year, Langley’s creation is on display at Omer & Bob’s in Lebanon. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff at The Family Place had to rethink how to host the Gingerbread Festival, which is now in its 18th year. From now through Dec. 9, more than 60 gingerbread creations can be found displayed in windows at businesses throughout Norwich, White River Junction, Hanover, West Lebanon and Lebanon. A full list of participating businesses can be found at familyplacevt.org, where people can also bid on items in a silent auction.

“It’s been such a tradition for a lot of people in the community,” said Nancy Bloomfield, executive director of the Norwich-based nonprofit organization. “It’s really special that there’s been a way to make it happen in a reimagined way.”

In the last few years, the fundraiser has brought in between $45,000-$50,000, which is combination of sponsorships from area organizations and businesses, event admission fees, a silent auction for the houses and other activities at the festival.

“It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year and it’s also our opportunity to reach a lot of people in the community, to connect with our community,” Bloomfield said.

She was initially hesitant about reaching out to businesses this year because of the current economic climate. There were also concerns that people might pass on decorating a house.

“We didn’t know how that would go this year because it’s been a tough year for many businesses, and people were very generous in responding to us,” Bloomfield said. “We didn’t know how it would come together when we decided we wanted to give it a try, but it’s definitely been our experience that the community always rallies ... to support organizations in the community that really need the community’s backing, but also to keep traditions alive.”

That tradition extends to students at Dothan Brook School, where each year each class makes a house for the festival. Instead of parent volunteers helping students inside the classrooms, staff took on the task, and parents complied materials used to decorate the edible structures.

“I heard from a lot of staff and students that it was nice to do something that felt normal, that we’ve done in the past,” said Rick Dustin-Eichler, principal at the pre-K-fifth grade school in White River Junction.

He had made participation in the festival optional for staff this year, but all of them enthusiastically signed on.

“So many of those things that are traditions for us we’re not able to do or to do in way that seems like we’ve always done them,” he said. “The gingerbread stayed the same.”

The students made 15 houses, which the school displayed on a counter in an office before they were distributed throughout the community.

“The kids would come by the window and be able to see them and there was lots of excitement,” Dustin-Eichler said.

Recently, he and his family walked around downtown White River Junction, where the students’ creations are on display.

“There’s something special about having them out in the broader community for everyone to see to celebrate the houses and the broader work that The Family Place does,” Dustin-Eichler said.

It also gives people an opportunity to find a little more holiday spirit in unexpected places.

“It’s a little bit of a bright spot in a tough time,” Bloomfield said. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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