Fredericksburg's Incredible Edible Houses
WHY: The gingerbread man comes home for the holidays, a very sweet castle and a honey of a ham.
HOW FAR: About six miles from start to finish.
Fredericksburg Past doesn't exactly scream yuletide cheer, but Fredericksburg Present is a bundle of peace and joy.
The town's bad Christmas luck started in 1740, when the main house at Ferry Farm, the childhood residence of George Washington, burned to the ground on Christmas Eve. Even the home's proximity to the Rappahannock River could not save it. Skip ahead to December 1862. The infamous Battle of Fredericksburg was raging, with Union and Confederate soldiers fighting in a freezing, bloody conflict. The new year didn't bring the troops much respite: Fredericksburg remained a snowy war zone well into 1863.
But since it's the holiday season, let's instead focus on happier times and events, such as the 21st annual Gingerbread House Contest, held at Ferry Farm through Dec. 30. Its 26 tasty houses were created by amateurs as young as 2 years old, families and one professional, whose rendering of Narnia belongs in a museum, not your belly.
This year's storybook theme translated into a lot of Three Little Pigs. But other literary references popped up as well: "Little House on the Prairie," "Beowulf," a goopy green Emerald City. All of the building materials must be edible (but no nibbling allowed), so roofs are made of shredded wheat, snowy lawns are sprinkled with coconut and log cabins are built of pretzel rods. The best constructions received colored ribbons, but you can still cast a vote for the people's choice award until the exhibit closes.
Meanwhile, across the river, Historic Fredericksburg is also decking its halls. Caroline Street, the main drag, is lined with pear trees draped in twinkling lights and stores bursting with red-ribboned treats. "The style here is somewhat old-fashioned," says Bob Whittingham, owner of the Kitchen at Whittingham, a culinary store that decorates its storefront every season. "It's not the mall, and it's not glitzy. It's community spirit." And, hopefully, Fredericksburg Future as well.
-- Ben Chapman