…that’s the short version. I won a giant gingerbread house.
It’s huge, it’s delicate, and it smells so sincere. Good God, the smell! Glade might try to make it into an aerosol mist, but only the genuine articles smell like this.
I won it from that Christmas fair. The one I’ve been going to since childhood. The one I wrote about last year. The one I wrote about almost a decade ago.
If you’ve been reading me, you know the drill. The star of the fair is its parade of “raffle baskets.” You buy tickets and trade them for chances at various gift baskets, donated by presumed Catholics and filled with all sorts of prizes.
One basket might have a few LEGO sets. Another might come with a serving dish and a certificate to score ten free pounds of calamari from a nearby seafood market. Still another might include a teddy bear, warm cheese and a gravy boat. You generally wouldn’t waste tickets on that one.
I’d all but given up on this Christmas fair. Maybe I’ve gotten too old, or maybe it’s changed. My recent impressions have run from “it’s too busy” to “it’s too noisy,” all the way to “for God’s sake, 106.7 is playing Christmas music 24/7 now… why are they blasting Z100?”
In truth, I was making up reasons because the real one sounded too whiny. I started hating on this Christmas fair simply because I stopped winning baskets.
I had an incredible hot streak in the mid 2000s, but for the last few years? Nothing, nada, zip. Even as I pawned cars to be able to afford enough tickets to “guarantee” victory and continue the tradition, I was bested by the likes of “Sally G,” who couldn’t have possibly wanted those passes to the New York Aquarium as much as I did.
I started in with the conspiracy theories. I knew it wasn’t outright fixed, but I suspected shenanigans with the post-game winners’ list. (If you aren’t there when they do the drawings, they call you after the fair closes. I was convinced that someone was using Wite-Out and a neighbor’s name to screw me.)
So this year, I spent the bare minimum. Which for me is probably still more than any sane person would spend, because I was fathered by a man who was on a first name basis with everyone at Bally’s. I get the fever easily, even when all I’m gunning for is a basketful of cutting boards.
On Sunday night, I got a text from them. I won a basket, and I could pick it up the next day.
I spent the whole night wondering what it might be. Actually, “agonizing” might be a better word. My memories of the fair are a complete blur, and I couldn’t remember all of the baskets I’d played for.
I took to doodling the prizes I did remember trying for. (Hence the above work-a-de-art-a, which was posted to Mummy Shark last night.)
I remembered using a few tickets on one of those electronic dog puppets, but I really didn’t want to win that. I like dog puppets, but this one makes “vomit” and “diarrhea” noises. Interesting, yes, but not very Christmassy. What was I thinking?
I was warmer to the idea of winning that weird wreath. The one covered in the two dozen scratch-off cards. That seemed Christmassy, and winning it would be like gambling for the chance to gamble some more. Call me crazy, but that might’ve inspired me to write poems about human nature.
Well, as you know, my prize was neither a gross dog nor a gambling wreath. It was a GIANT GINGERBREAD HOUSE.
And you know what? That’s the prize I wanted most.
I’m not kidding.
Friends and family watched with intrigue as I blew half of my tickets for a shot at this. I’m a sucker for a good gingerbread house, but that was only part of it.
I think we’ve all had a couple of knockout Christmases, right? Most Christmases just come and go, and even when they’re not actively bad, they’re not immensely memorable.
But we’ve all had a few that were. Maybe it was last year, or maybe it was decades ago. Maybe it was about who was there, or maybe it was about what you got. When we hear “Christmas,” those are the Christmases we think about.
For me, 1986 was one of the big ones. Maybe the biggest. Our house had never been so packed. There were rarely seen relatives in every room, each armed with a paper plate and a sad looking folding chair.
Even my immediate family is an army, but with all of the extra aunts and uncles and cousins, Christmas Eve has never seemed as big as it did back in ’86. I suppose it helps that I was only seven years old, too.
The thing I remember most about that Christmas is my brother’s ferrets. He was home from college for the week, and now he had ferrets. Okay.
But my second strongest memory is more abstract. It’s just this vague recollection of Christmas being in every crevice. This was an all-house affair, and Christmas was all over the house. Hell, even my father’s office, strewn with drafting tables and pointy compasses, had been appropriated as a second bar.
Somewhere in the middle of everything was a giant gingerbread house. I don’t know who brought it, but I wonder what they thought as it spent the entire night on a low shelf in the far corner of our living room, because that was literally the only place where it could fit.
All through the party, that gingerbread house kept catching my eye. It looked like an action figure playset, or in terms that the seven-year-old me would’ve never used, “a dollhouse.”
I loved that it was in such an odd place. I loved that there was THAT MUCH CHRISTMAS hiding in the corner of our living room.
Come to think of it, that gingerbread house kicked off an odd hobby of mine. Whenever I’m somewhere that seems legendarily Christmassy, I play a little game. I close my eyes, shake my head in all directions, and if I always spot something Christmassy when I open them, I know that I’m at a special place.
That gingerbread house looked a lot like this one.
It’s… it’s indescribably beautiful!
The gingerbread house was donated by some bakery from Brooklyn. It’s as classic as classic can get, if you’re willing to overlook the big cross on the front, which may indicate that this is less a gingerbread “house” and more a gingerbread “church.”
Hell, I don’t care if it’s a gingerbread “DMV.” There are plastic snowmen nestled into beds of frosting outside the door! If I asked for more than that, I’d be a complete bastard.
This is mine?
This is seriously mine?!
I don’t know the “proper form” when it comes to gingerbread houses. Am I supposed to eat it? Or is this like one of those Food Network cake competitions, where people make gorgeous things that are only edible in a technical sense?
I guess it doesn’t matter. Even if I could eat it, I don’t want to. I just want to look at it. It shares its purpose with Christmas trees.
It’s a shrine. A shrine with joy-spreading super-powers that will expire in exactly one month.
It’s my major award.
And now my office looks that much more ridiculous.