The Gingerbread Man

Image from Preston Public Library

Image from Preston Public Library

Every Christmas, my sister and I bake and decorate gingerbread men. This is my first Christmas not living with my family, so I’m carrying on the tradition alone (unless my boyfriend bravely volunteers).

This year, I started wondering where the story of the Gingerbread Man came from (i.e. “Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!”). Of course, I did some research.

First off, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. He gets eaten by a fox. Second, I didn’t find any actual historical information, other than that Queen Elizabeth would have cookies made to look like her guests. This is the first reported instance of cookies being shaped like people.

On to the story (circa 1875):

There was an old woman who could not have children. She was baking gingerbread men cookies when suddenly, one of them leaped from the pan and ran away. The woman and her husband chase the wayward cookie, but cannot catch him. The gingerbread man makes his way through the countryside, running from farmers and animals, while singing “I’ve run away from a little old woman, a little old man, and I can run away from you, I can!” The story ends when a fox catches the Gingerbread Man. As he’s being eaten, he shouts “I’m quarter gone…I’m half gone…I’m three-quarters gone…I’m all gone!”

Weird, right? Don’t fairy tales usually have happy endings? And how did he become associated with Christmas?

As far as I can tell, this came from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky‘s ballet The Nutcracker. An army of gingerbread men fights the Mouse King.

The Gingerbreaed Man also has many other honorable mentions:

  • The game Candy Land has gingerbread men as its main characters.
  • Gingy is the gingerbread man from the movie Shrek. (Not much better than getting eaten by a fox).
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