Experience the glory of GingerBread Lane
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The day after Christmas is typically a time for relaxation. It is a time for reflection. This comes after a busy holiday season. But that is not true for Jon Lovitch. December 26 is the day he gets started on next year’s Christmas miracle. He hits up stores’ post-holiday sales. He stocks up on sugar. He buys candy. He buys other sweets. He will use them to build his next GingerBread Lane. He is driven by visions of Yuletide glory.
He is 39-years-old. He is a chef. He has been building gingerbread houses since he was a teenager. But Lovitch is no run-of-the-mill gingerbread fan. He built GingerBread Lane. It is on display through January 21. It is at the New York Hall of Science. It is in Queens, New York. His displays have broken Guinness World Records. It was the world’s largest gingerbread village. Lovitch has won the title for the past five years. He beat out villages in Norway and other countries. He is going for a sixth straight title this year.
GingerBread Lane was made using 682 pounds of homemade gingerbread dough. It used 775 pounds of candy. The candy came from more than 11 countries. GingerBread Lane has 3,900 pounds of icing. It weighs in at around three tons. It takes up 500 square feet of space. Lovitch spent a year buying supplies. He made dough from scratch. He made icing from scratch. He decorated each of the 1,102 buildings. He did so right down to their gumdrop-speckled rooftops. The village is completely edible. It took about 1,500 hours to construct. It was built over the course of an entire year.
“I’m a chef by trade and a food purist. So I don’t believe in using ingredients that are inedible,” Lovitch tells Smithsonian.com. “Sure, it would be much easier to build if I used Styrofoam and glue. But Guinness mandates it’s built in such a way. And that’s the same way I’ve always done it.”
Lovitch serves as executive chef at the historic Algonquin Hotel. It is in Times Square. It is in New York City. That is what he does when he isn’t hunched over his oven in his cramped Bronx apartment. There are space restraints in his home kitchen. So he can only work in batches. He works on nights. And he works on weekends. He makes about three pounds of icing at a time. He stores his creations in a spare bedroom. This means his entire home smells like a Christmas bakery year-round.
“By the end of summer I can’t even smell it anymore,” he says. “But whenever I have friends over, they always comment on it.”
Lovitch’s schedule increases in intensity once July rolls around. He does the bulk of the baking during the summer. It isn’t until fall that he begins work on each structure’s details. This includes an intricate candy-coated rooftop. It is the roof of the S.C. Kringle & Co. Department Shoppe. It also includes lifelike stonework. It is on the exterior of a row of gingerbread brownstones. Lovitch even uses specially ordered coffee-flavored gum. It comes from Japan. It looks like brown bricks.
“I try to make my village as lifelike and detailed as possible. It’s a cross between something in a Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and a Tim Burton movie,” says Lovitch. Kids are drawn to the delicious intricacy of his gingerbread creations. But they aren't alone. He says: “Seniors are also really into it.”
GingerBread Lane’s appeal is widespread. But it can’t last forever. It delights kids of all ages for several weeks. But Lovitch must dismantle GingerBread Lane on January 21. He doesn't throw his creations in the trash. He invites visitors to come to the New York Hall of Science. He lets people take home buildings for free. This is on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Taking it apart can be gut-wrenching,” he says. “You realize as you give away each piece that you’ll never see it again. Just like Christmas, it’s an ephemeral thing. A brief, fleeting moment in time.”