Eight-year-old Grace McMiller has been fascinated by the sugar gumdrops, vanilla icing and colored sprinkles adorning gingerbread houses in an Upper Marlboro competition every year since she was a toddler — but now the holiday tradition has changed.
This year marked the first time Grace constructed her very own gingerbread house and put it on display at Darnall’s Chance House Museum, an Upper Marlboro historic house and museum that has hosted the gingerbread house decorating contest for 13 years. The contest includes two divisions, one for children ages 8 to 16 and one for adults — and when McMiller turned 8, she said she knew her time had finally come.
“I made a ‘Candy Land Sugar Rush,’” said McMiller, describing her entry and its Candy Land board game theme. “It’s very fun and exciting that I get to do it on my own ... Since I was a baby I’ve been going there to see the houses.”
The gingerbread house contest and show, which opened Nov. 23, will run until Sunday, when a winner in the Viewer’s Choice Award category will be chosen from votes that have been cast from attendees who paid $1. Although 34 residents registered, 22 homes were entered, due to plans falling through or not contestants not budgeting enough time to complete a house, said museum manager Susan Reidy. In 2011, there were 21 entries.
Awards for first, second and third place, as well as “most creative” in the adult and children categories, were chosen at the start of the show by a panel of four judges and winners were given monetary prizes such as $100 for first place, which went to Ami Hazell of Lothian. Second place went to Anita Guit of Owings. The winner of the viewer’s choice award will receive $350.
Reidy has overseen the gingerbread house contest every year and said there’s always something new and creative.
“We want to do something local, to keep in the holiday spirit,” Reidy said. “This appeals to pretty much everybody. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Everybody gets something out of it.”
Jessica Dieffenbacher, 25, of Upper Marlboro said she just moved to the town a few months ago and was looking for events and attractions to take part in and stumbled upon the gingerbread house contest.
“When reality struck, I realized it was a very long process. I had to Google everything ... I had to figure out how to make gingerbread, how to make candied windows, there were all of those little things I didn’t think about,” she said. “It’s great that they have an opportunity for kids to challenge themselves.”
The contest rules requires participants to create original designs using original materials. No gingerbread house-making kits are allowed.
While she didn’t take home any ribbons this year, Grace she said she is determined to make a gingerbread house every year from now on to keep the tradition.
Her family moved to Upper Marlboro from Philadelphia in 2002 and has been going to the annual contest that begins the day after Thanksgiving as a way to kick off the holiday season.
“It’s a tradition. We have to go and see all the houses on display,” said Grace’s father, Michael McMiller, 49. “When she was young, she would ask me, ‘When can I do it?’ Now that she’s entered this year, she’s very excited about that.”
Michael McMiller said he’s holding out for the Viewer’s Choice Award since there is still time for attendees to cast their votes.
“I’ve sent emails out to all of our friends and families to make sure they stop by and look at the show and also vote for what I think their favorite entry would be,” he said.