A group of friends getting together each year to decorate gingerbread houses? That’s not so unusual.
But 19 of them — and all men? Year after year ever since middle school? Now that’s a holiday tradition worth carrying on.
Even so, this year might be the last for this particular group of friends from Larchmont. They will be scattering across the country for different jobs after college graduation, so their long-running ritual of affixing pretzels and icing and gum drops to home-baked gingerbread has taken on a little more meaning.
“They’re very sentimental about each other this year,” says Betty Comerford, who hosts the gatherings each year for her son, Phil, and his friends. “It’s about so much more than the gingerbread. They’re just such a unique group of boys.”
The tradition started about 10 years ago, after Betty — a Home and Careers Skills teacher at the Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont — decided to change an annual tree decorating party she threw for the children into a gingerbread one, so everyone would have something to take home. She still hosts parties for all three of her children — her daughter, Sarah, is a freshman in college and her other son, Michael, is a junior in high school — and takes two full weekends to bake all the parts for the houses. “The oven doesn’t stop running from 8 a.m. to 10 at night,” she laughs.
“This tradition is only one of many examples of the Comerfords going out of their way to show us a great time,” Zach Berger, below, a senior at Wake Forest, wrote in an e-mail. “Whether being there to watch a football game, have a barbecue, make gingerbread houses or just hang out, Betty has always made us feel at home and feel like a part of the family. The gingerbread houses are just one example of her efforts to make sure that we all stay close.”
And stay close they have. This year, on the weekend after Thanksgiving, the friends planned an entire schedule of togetherness: an annual football game; a formal portrait (where they dressed in suits!); and a cocktail party — with their parents (gasp). And, of course, there was the gingerbread party.
Each guy has his own seat at a folding table, which Betty rents for the occasion, and there are communal bowls of candy for decorations. (See the recipe for Betty’s candy suggestions. She says striped gum works great for shutters.)
“Some kids are really creative and are able to make intricate designs,” says Phil. “Some kids focus on their passions, like sports logos. You’re able to see what kind of person they are.”
And that’s evolved over the years, says Betty. “You really see all their personalities come out,” she says. “This one boy, Rory — I’ve told him, ‘You must have been a child who never colored outside of the lines!’”
One of the most memorable houses, Phil says, was made by Tim Dolan, who now goes to Dartmouth. One year, he decorated his house entirely in pretzels. Everyone teased him at the time, but the following year — you guessed it: “That was the one I’ll remember,” says Phil. “And I’ll remember forever.”
Phil, right, who is a finance and accounting major at the University of Michigan, says he knows some people might make fun of him and his friends — after all, it’s not the manliest of activities to decorate gingerbread houses.
“But I think you need to step back and say it’s kind of funny,” he says. “You don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re 20 or so — but we’re still decorating gingerbread, and that’s fun. We’re sitting around, having conversations and making jokes and laughing. And that’s part of the holidays, too — being able to enjoy hanging out.”
Will they ever do it again??That remains to be seen. But this holiday tradition has helped make these friendships ones that Phil thinks will last a long time.
“There’s a lot more technology now to help stay in touch,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to remain friends, even across the country.”
True. But it’s awfully hard to pass the gumdrops. Or the pretzels.
And here’s a look at photos from the decorating party over Thanksgiving this weekend: