“Hansel and Gretel” is a fairy tale about a brother and sister lost in the woods. They come across a witch’s cottage made entirely of sweets. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm included it in their Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) book.
Gingerbread has a spicy history, and it was formed into the shape of people (visiting dignitaries!) at the court of Queen Elizabeth I in the fifteen hundreds. Note that “The Gingerbread Man/Boy” is a separate fairy tale. Although it was first published in Germany in 1875, the rhythmic tale was already a popular oral story.
The witch’s cottage in “Hansel and Gretel” most likely sparked the idea of making gingerbread into actual miniature houses in Germany.
This fairy tale was even turned into an opera by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck (1854–1921), a student of Richard Wagner. “Hansel and Gretel” was Humperdinck’s first full opera. The libretto was written by his sister, Adelheid Wette (1858–1916). I really like some of the songs!
An interesting side note about social norms is that, originally, the stepmother in the tale was simply the children’s real mother, but it has been modified over time.
We’ve come a long way from the cannibalistic witch, and gingerbread is a tradition for many, especially around the holidays.
2 thoughts on “Hansel, Gretel, and the Rise of Gingerbread”
Very interesting–I didn’t realize how long ago making gingerbread people became popular. Great link, too, and I’m looking forward to listening to Humperdinck’s music for this opera. Happy Holidays!
It is surprising to think about gingerbread cookies that long ago.
Happy New Year!