Gingerbread at the Fairmont

Fairmont Entrance

Never before have I stepped inside a house comprised mostly of gingerbread – yes,  gingerbread.  Every year, the legendary Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco transforms its lobby into a holiday paradise.  This includes the annual construction of a grand Victorian manor of gingerbread, icing, and other materials (some edible, some not).  I had the fortune to visit the Fairmont for the Official Opening of the Gingerbread House on November 30th.

Gingerbread House

Standing twenty-two feet high and twenty-three feet long, the Mansard style home almost touches the lobby ceiling.  Feeling very much like Hansel from the famed Grimm’s tale, I walked through the doorway of the impressively festive abode.

Gingerbread House Tree

Through the front windows of the house, one can see a room in Santa’s Workshop, everything the right size for elves.  A small lighted tree illuminates the front, with a four-car train traveling the surrounding track.

Gingerbread House Second Story

The second floor of the home boasts a larger tree, elaborate lights, and a roof with a widow’s walk.  Is that Santa I see upon the chimney?

Gingerbread House Detail

I love the attention to detail the home was given.  Thick icing in shades of green, red and white frame the windows.  Unlike most gingerbread houses, there was a surplus of edible building materials for the guests at the event.  One could eat the cake, and have it too, so-to-speak.   I was able to sample some and it was sheer holiday perfection.  It went amazing well with the hot chocolate that was also being passed out.  Notice another view of the elfin workshop through the window.

Gingerbread House Back Entrance

The back entrance to the house opens onto the Fairmont’s Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar.  They are hosting a Gingerbread Tea Service on the weekends through December 15th, and then every day between December 16th through December 29th.  For more information regarding the Gingerbread Tea, please visit the Fairmont website:  http://www.fairmont.com/san-francisco/promotions/gingerbread-house/

Gingerbread House Nutcracker

A life-size tall Nutcracker has his own room in the tower of the home.  I estimate him to be about five feet tall.

Ice Nutcracker

A Nutcracker carved of ice was on display for the opening.   Beautiful and exquisite.

Nutcracker Collection

On loan from the San Francisco Ballet is the Molinari Family Nutcracker Collection, on display throughout the holidays.  Which nutcracker is your favorite?

In fact, there is even a friendly competition between The Fairmont and the Westin St. Francis, as to who has the better gingerbread creation.  I haven’t seen the other house, but it is much smaller in size and more castle-like.  As for feng shui purposes, The Fairmont’s Gingerbread House creates a full-fledged environment.  How, exactly, is this specific gingerbread house good feng shui?  Well, unlike most gingerbread constructions, one can actually walk through this one (they are typically much smaller).  The house is also structurally sound.  Following building codes, a wood frame acts as skeletal support, with the gingerbread and other materials then applied.  And then there is the smell.  The aroma of gingerbread fills the lobby’s environment.  This fosters a sense of festive holiday cheer.  And the closer one is to the house, the stronger the fragrance.

Fairmont Tree and Santa

The new addition this year to the house was the Gingerbread Doghouse.  Located over in the kid’s section of the event, I was unable to get a good photo of it due to the crowd.  This area was ideal for kids to make their own fanciful buildings and drop off letters to Santa Claus in his designated mailbox.  However, he was there in person if one’s Christmas List needed immediate attention.   A beautiful tree takes center stage in front of the main entrance.  Decorated in golds, silvers and cobalt, it harmonized perfectly with the gilded resplendence of the lobby.

Fairmont Mirror Bird

I loved the carvings on the mirrors and walls of the entry hall.  Above is a close-up of the birds attached to the golden mirrors that hang throughout.  Simply stunning.

Fairmont Reindeer

Topiary sculptures covered in lights adorn the roof the lobby’s front desk.  The Gingerbread House will be on display through January 1st.

The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco

950 Mason Street (Nob Hill), San Francisco, California 94108  

415 772 5000

http://www.fairmont.com/san-francisco/promotions/gingerbread-house/

Fairmont Carollers

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Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…

Christmas Tree Adorned with Lighted Candles

Since I was a child, one of my favorite holiday activities has been to decorate the Christmas Tree.  The days leading up to Christmas, I would take my sleeping bag and curl up in front of its protective branches, completely mesmerized by the twinkling lights and shiny ornaments until I drifted off to sleep.  As an adult, I don’t really do this so much, but the aesthetic beauty of Christmas Trees continues to enchant me.   For centuries, people have decorated their homes with healthy branches that remained green throughout winter.  To celebrate the Winter Solstice, the pagans in early Europe would decorate  their homes with boughs of fir, spruce and pine.  Druid priests in Celtic England would decorate their houses and temples with evergreen as a symbol of eternal life.  (Only branches were used, though, and never the whole tree, as that would have been too destructive for their tastes.)  The citizens of ancient Egypt would fill their homes with palm fronds to commemorate resurrection and rebirth.  But it was the Greeks and Romans who thought to decorate these branches, adorning them with bits of metal and religious icons.

Victorian Christmas Tree and NativityThe Germans were the ones responsible for bringing the whole tree inside the house, using fruit and candles as the main decorations.  There were many objections to the use of the Christmas Tree as part of the holiday celebration.  Many religious leaders and pious followers felt the symbol of the tree was far too pagan and unholy to use in Christian-based religions.  Despite these objections, Queen Victoria and her husband, German born Prince Albert, loved Christmas Trees.  They began to gain popularity, and by the late Victorian Era, they could be seen everywhere.  The Europeans preferred their trees to be three to four feet tall, whereas Americas liked theirs to reach floor to ceiling.

From a feng shui standpoint, there are many reasons why people are attracted to the beauty of The Christmas Tree.  For one, all five of the elements are represented.  Wood is represented by the tree itself.  Fire is symbolized by the glowing lights.  Metal and earth comprise most of the ornaments.  As for water, if one’s tree is living, then there is usually a water source at the base.  However, if the three is faux, then shades of blue can be symbolic of the water element.  Indeed, the use of color can work for all the elements here.   Another alluring aspect of the tree is the shape.  In feng shui, triangles are representative of fire, which humans are drawn to.  Most Christmas trees are triangle in shape.  The lights are also another fire aspect of the tree that beguile the beholder.  Not to mention the various kind of ornaments that adorn the branches – of which there is there is an endless variety.

Peacock Tree 08

Above are some photos of my Christmas Tree this year.  I went with a Victorian Peacock theme (I like peacocks).  One thing I use in decorating my Christmas Tree every year is fruit.   I have a collection of faux red apple ornaments (not pictured), as well as faux pears (which can be seen on the tree).  Faux fruit works far better than the real thing, as they tend to be heavy on the branches, and can become rotten, causing all kinds of issues.  Other examples of faux fruit I’ve seen have been glass strawberries, wax fruit and berries of all kinds, and red beads (these look like cranberries from a distance)  But if you want something edible on the tree, the fastest and easiest thing to add would be candy canes.  I do advise keeping them in their wrapping, however, to keep them fresh.  And then, there are some trees that are completely edible in of themselves.

Christmas Tree Crudite

Chef, author and spokesperson Jeanne Benedict created this amazing Christmas Tree Crudite  for LIVE with Regis and Kelly in 2009.  In addition to all of the colorful, edible vegetables, the base is made out of two cabbages.  The complete directions on how to make this stunning tree are located here:  http://www.jeannebenedict.com/recipes/christmas-tree-crudite/

Christmas Tree Rolls

Taste of Home has a tantalizing tree made from cinnamon buns.  I would play with colored frosting and tinted sugars to enhance the display.   Direction available here:  http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Christmas-Tree-Rolls

Christmas Tree Cake BC

Betty Crocker, than name we know and love, has several Christmas Tree inspired treats.  My favorite is the Christmas Tree Cake.  Although I would tint the batter green.  The complete recipe and cutting instructions are located here:  http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/christmas-tree-cake/6a22dadd-3b92-40b5-a5a9-df209ff3ef68

Lemon Basil Tree

Ms. Crocker also has a delicious looking Lemon Basil Tree I want to experiment with.  Although I’d add a couple of black olives and diced tomatoes for color.   Here’s the recipe:  http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/lemon-basil-tree/5fe297f9-df00-432e-8079-e7a8f1fc8a31

Cookie Jigsaw

Delish.com and Good Housekeeping have revived a mid-century favorite:  The Cookie Jigsaw.   Originally published in the December 1965 edition of Good Housekeeping, this nouveau take on the classic sugar cookie has each cookie as a puzzle piece for the celebratory Christmas Tree and a starry night sky.   I’d like to try this recipe for Easter as well, perhaps with the image of a giant Easter Egg.  The complete recipe is here:  http://www.delish.com/recipefinder/cookie-jigsaw-1658

As for the location of the Christmas Tree in the home, there are many options.  Each ideal location for the tree is different with each environment.  The main tree should be put in the living room or parlor, or a large room where the home’s loved ones and guests can congregate easily.   Unless you’re on a higher floor, avoid putting the tree directly in front of a window, as this can sometimes lure thieves to break into the home.  The best areas for the tree are the East, Southeast and South.  East is the area of each room that symbolizes family.  The associated element here is wood, and its associated color green, making it perfect for any plant, especially the Christmas Tree.  Southeast, being the area of prosperity and abundance, and south, being the area of fame, are also good options.  However, the southwest could also work, being the area symbolic of love, if your tree happens to be predominantly red, pink, or white.  As for choosing real or faux trees, they both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Real trees offer a stronger wood element to the environment, and give off a purely festive aroma of nature.  The water element is also present here to sustain the tree.  Faux options, however, last much longer than real trees, and some have bendable branches, creating a perfect display for ornaments.  I inherited my family’s old Christmas Tree years ago, which was originally bought back in 1992, and it still looks just as good as when it was first purchased.   I also advise that one keeps a close eye on their pets (and the occasional willful child).  Sometimes the branches and ornaments prove too much of a temptation to play with.

I realize that these recipes and tips are far too late in the season to be currently applied, but every morsel of information can be put towards next years Christmas celebration.  It was my goal to get this article finished weeks ago (and not on Christmas Day), but I got distracted by many a holiday party.  I would like to wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Festive and Joyous New Year!

New Year's Cherub in Lily Pond