Gingerbread houses are one of the most fun (and beautiful) Christmas decorations.
But why is gingerbread called "gingerbread," since it bears little resemblance to bread? The name stems from the Old French word "gingerbras", or preserved ginger, a term used in the thirteenth century. The word changed to become "gingerbread" as the English language gained more influence. In the sixteenth century, in some parts of Germany and France, the sweet cake was used to make molded cookies in the forms of animals and human. Two forms of gingerbread originated in Germany: the softer Lebkuchen, used for many Christmas cookies, and the harder form, which is used for gingerbread houses.
They saw a beautiful snow-white bird sitting on a bough, which sang... And when its song was over, it spread its wings and flew away before them, and they followed it until they reached a little house, on the roof of which it alighted. And when they approached the little house they saw that it was built of bread and covered with cakes, but that the windows were of clear sugar.
-Hansel and Gretel, The Grimm Brothers
It is uncertain whether the Grimm Brothers collected a tale of an original "house of bread," or if such a house was traditional already, but whether the gingerbread house came first or the Grimm Brothers' collection, the story of Hansel and Gretel resulted in the popularization of the gingerbread house, especially at Christmastime.
Today, there are many competitions in building gingerbread houses all around the world. Some are extremely large, or extraordinarily detailed.
This one is apparently modeled after the medieval city of Carcassone.
Even I made one this year!
Not as impressive as the Carcassone one, but mine does have a monster mailbox!
Sources : http://www.foodtimeline.org/christmasfood.html#gingerbread