We could all benefit from some gingerbread-induced holiday cheer.
Gingerbread is a big deal in Norway (where it's called pepperkake), which means it's a big deal at Norway House, the Minneapolis nonprofit that fosters connections between Norway and the United States.
Enter Gingerbread Wonderland, where bakers of all ages and talent levels contribute small-scale structures, some just for festive fun, others to engage in warmhearted, low-stakes competition. Whatever the reason, it's loaded with creativity and charm.
Big surprise: This year's edition has a few 2020-related alterations.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, gingerbread fans will not be able to visit the display in person. Instead, they can go to the Norway House website (norwayhouse.org) and click on an up-close-and-personal virtual tour of the display. Viewers will have to supply their own ginger, cinnamon and molasses scents.
"The good news is that, although we won't have anyone seeing it in person, anyone from around the world can be part of the audience," said Max Stevenson, director of exhibitions and programs and the nonprofit's go-to guy for all things gingerbread.
This being Norway House, the 18-minute video steeps itself deep into Norwegian culture by affectionately modeling itself after the country's "slow TV" craze. That's where producers devote marathon coverage to seemingly low-key events, in real time: watching sheep shearers and weavers as they go through every step to produce a sweater, or capturing the view of the landscape during a seven-hour train journey.
There's a modest fee — $5 — to view the video.
"We are a nonprofit, and we rely heavily on the Gingerbread Wonderland for our operations budget," said Stevenson.
This year's entries were prepared by bakers as young as 5, and the level of inventive design and execution is impressive.
"Every year, our bakers seem to get better, and better," said Stevenson.
One of many standouts is a replica of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the "Harry Potter" series, a beauty by Maggie Karschnia; it's the winner of the Best Amateur category.
Steph Kissinger and Kelly Loso, the team behind Sweet Retreat Cupcake Boutique, took the Best Professional Baker blue ribbon by recreating the Mindekirken (Norwegian Memorial Lutheran Church) next door to Norway House. They also submitted re-creations of the soon-to-open Munchmuseet (Munch Museum) on Oslo's waterfront, as well as the historic former Milwaukee Road Depot in downtown Minneapolis.
Several other Twin Cities landmarks have been replicated in gingerbread, including Prospect Park's distinctive "witch's hat" water tower (the work of Paula Gilbertson), Urban Growler Brewery (by Kathy Manderscheid) and Bogart's Doughnut Co. (by Annie Loch, with assistance from Cameron and Kyle); yes, there are tiny ginger doughnuts.
Other highlights include a whirling carousel, decked out in lights, by Renee and Kirsten Poppenhagen (not for nothing it won the year's Most Whimsical award), and "House of Cards," a collaboration between friends who met at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., in the 1970s and are now living all over Minnesota and in Seattle. Each participant made their own "hand" of cards, and Heather Vick assembled them into a towering structure.
"It's about finding ways to be together when we can't be together," said Stevenson. "People were so creative, with more outside-the-box thinking than in years past."
Unfortunately, an unexpected late-November heat wave caused "House of Cards" to collapse like, well, a house of cards. But the story has an appropriately happy ending: "House of Cards" won the Most Representative of 2020 award.
Gingerbread enthusiasts can cast their vote for this year's People's Choice Award at norwayhouse.org/GBW-online. The video will be available at least into January.
"We haven't set an end date," said Stevenson. "Now, more than ever, we need something fun and celebratory."
The event's inspiration comes from the Pepperkakebyen, a vast gingerbread landscape — the world's largest — that materializes every year in Bergen, Norway, thanks to the contributions of thousands of pepperkake enthusiasts.
At Norway House, this year's 89 entries are down from the nearly 200 from last year's Gingerbread Wonderland.
"We knew, going in, that it could go either way," said Stevenson. "This is a lot of fun for people to do, and there's nothing else to do right now. But at the same time, parents with kids at home are fatigued, and maybe this is the year when people take a break. But the passion is there, and people are already talking about next year, and we're excited to have people coming back in person in 2021."
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib