November 14, 2013

Gingerbread Village to be at Exploration Place

Gingerbread Village has moved around more during the past few years than Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve.

Gingerbread Village has moved around more during the past few years than Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve.

But organizers of the popular holiday event, which usually draws a crowd of nearly 3,000 little gingerbread house builders and their parents, think they may have finally found a spot that will work.

The event is being put on Saturday and Sunday at Exploration Place, the popular children’s museum at 300 N. McLean. It’s a new venue for the event, which was at the Beech Activity Center in 2012 and 2011, the Sedgwick County Extension Center in 2010, and the Church of the Magdalene for many years before that.

The partnership with Exploration Place made sense, said Assistance League’s Kathy Wilson, the event chairwoman, because they’re both family-oriented. Exploration Place’s central location also is a bonus, she said.

Visitors to Gingerbread Village, many of whom return year after year, enter and are handed kits with all the things they need to make little gingerbread houses: a set of pre-cut graham crackers, a paper cup full of special glue-like frosting, and lots of colorful sweet candies and cereals to decorate with. Many builders are so dedicated and experienced that they plan ahead and bring their own edible decorations.

Families spread out at community tables, and dozens of volunteers roam the area, helping with construction. (Getting the roofs in place is the toughest part.) The finished products are carefully toted home in cardboard carriers. It’s up to the architect whether to devour it immediately or save and admire it till it crumbles.

This year, families will pay regular Exploration Place admission to get into the event, and before they start or when they finish, they can roam the museum and enjoy the exhibits. “Mindbender Mansion,” a traveling exhibit filled with fun thinking games, is on display now.

To fit everyone, Gingerbread Village will place tables throughout many common areas, from the lobby to Waterway Hall the Egret dining room.

A new component of the event this year is a competition between local high schools to build the best gingerbread house. They’ll be set up at tables in the lobby at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and visitors can watch them race to build the prettiest houses in 40 minutes.

And as always, visitors will be invited to peruse a collection of professionally-made, intricate gingerbread houses on display.

The event has been put on for years by Assistance League, but it’s not the group’s biggest fundraiser. In fact, the expense of Gingerbread Village is so high that organizers discussed two years ago ending the event.

But after realizing what a big part of Wichita’s holiday tradition it had become, they concluded that it couldn’t end.

“We decided to continue and to do it as a community event,” Wilson said. “It’s not replicated anywhere else. We realized we needed to keep it as a family activity.”

Several local people and organizations donate items to make the event happen.

Each year, Chef Mark Barton at the Crestview Country Club makes 25 gallon barrels of the sticky, meringue powder-based frosting that holds the houses together. Pratt Industries donates the cardboard bases for the house. And students from USD 259 cut out all the foam blocks that serve as central support for the houses. More than 100 volunteers work throughout the weekend.

One other change to note: In the past, Gingerbread Village had Friday night hours. But this year, all the building will happen on Saturday and Sunday.

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