By Kathy Hanks

The Hutchinson News

With graham crackers in hand, four walls and a roof were created. Then another and another until a mini-subdivision of tiny houses was growing inside Memorial Hall.

There was no pounding of nails, only laughter rang out, as volunteers put together a thousand houses made from graham crackers. Each house was held together by gobs of white icing in preparation for the children to take over from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

For three days, volunteers led by Marc Trent and Tina Frees worked, diligently building so that every child who wanted to decorate a house with icing and candy could do so.

Some of the volunteers have made the building of the houses their own holiday tradition. Others, like Myrna Baird, used their lunch hour to help. She took off her dressy suit jacket. That was a wise move, because despite being careful there were dabs of white icing on her black slacks.

"I broke my first roof," Baird said. But she was a quick study and had mastered lining the icing-like caulking on the edge of the cracker and then holding two halves of the cracker at an angle until they held like cement.

Lynn Montgomery had icing in her hair, thanks to Janice Green, who accidentally leaned toward Montgomery as she got up from her chair with an icing stick in hand. Other volunteers were wearing headbands of reindeer antlers to add to the festivities. Christmas music was softly playing in the background.

It's that time of year again when wide-eyed children are let loose with a tub of icing and plenty of candy and cereal. Led by their imaginations, they'll decorate their own gingerbread houses.

With the goal of putting smiles on about 1,000 young faces Saturday, Trent and Frees coordinate the construction ahead of schedule. They make sure everything that can be prepared ahead of time is, such as whipping up 275 pounds of icing, made from powder sugar, dried meringue and water. Plus they purchase 5,000 graham crackers, 47 jumbo bags of candy, 25 bags of cereal and 19 bags of marshmallows for decorating.

It has been a local tradition for the past 10 years, beginning with the Downtown Association, but last year the Hutchinson Recreation Commission took over as an underwriter.

"It's our way of saying thank you to Hutchinson," said Trent, superintendent of recreational services.

In the past they hosted the event on several weekends, but this year it will be one day and includes a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus on the stage of Memorial Hall. Families of all ages are welcome. As they come through the door they will be given a house, plus candy, pretzels, cereal and lots of marshmallows to decorate their little cottage. Then, with their own tub of icing they can go to town making things stick to the walls and roof.

Whimsical gingerbread houses, decorated with snowy white icing and plenty of candy, are often used in Christmas decorations.

What the recreation commission offers is makeshift gingerbread houses. They use graham crackers, but the real deal became popular in the 19th century after the publishing of "Hansel and Gretel," written by the Brothers Grimm. The two children abandoned by their parents came to the gingerbread house made out of sweets and began eating the roof made of cake. Meanwhile, the witch -- known as Frau Pfefferkuchenhaus, which is the German word for ginger -- took them captive, planning to fatten them up and eat them. But Hansel and Gretel prevailed and escaped.

According to a "Gourmet Food" website, in early Germany the baking of gingerbread by the average person was permitted only during Christmas and Easter, which explains why gingerbread is associated with the holidays.

Despite getting messy, the local construction crews were serious about the quality of their work.

"I'm a professional roofer," said Marilyn Kottas. "We want the kids to be proud of them."

(c)2014 The Hutchinson News