The event modeled after a famous gingerbread city in Norway continues to grow in Naples

NAPLES — Elisabeth Cowley’s native home of Bergen, Norway, is home to the world’s largest gingerbread town. Each year in Bergen thousands of people contribute their sweet creations for the worldwide Christmas tradition through a giant display at a former public swimming pool arena called Sentralbadet.

It is the spirit of Bergen Gingerbread City that inspired Cowley, a longtime Naples resident, to launch Naples Gingerbread Village. Begun in 2011 at the Naples Library with just five entries, the village has grown to more than 30 homemade gingerbread structures representing Naples homes, businesses and landmarks. Now held at the historic Morgan Hose building, Naples Gingerbread Village opens on Saturday its 2018 exhibit entitled “Windows to the World.”

Unveiled during Saturday's “Light Up Naples” festivities, Gingerbread Village will be on exhibit at set times over four days. Visitors can vote for their favorite entries, with awards presented Dec. 16.

Cowley said when she launched the project eight years ago, quite a few people did not understand what she was trying to do. The second year she held gingerbread workshops, guiding children in making gingerbread houses in cookie form. The third year, she held workshops in the kitchen of Trinity Federated Church by helping each child make their own full-fledged gingerbread house.

“From there the village grew,” Cowley said. More people got involved — children, parents, grandparents — and along with the annual planning, baking, displaying and tours around the time of Dec. 12, National Gingerbread House Day, houses were also delivered to area nursing homes. Along with a growing number of entries, last year hundreds of people stopped in to get a taste of what the Naples Gingerbread Village is all about.

Cowley provides those entering the event with detailed instructions and tips. Those include recipes and her own tricks of the trade. It takes four days to make a gingerbread house what with planning, making the dough, baking, assembly and decorating. Each structure must be entirely edible.

“The Naples Gingerbread Village is very unique and every year we have a variety of buildings and skill sets represented,” said Cowley, who was at the Morgan Hose building this week to receive the entries and put together the exhibit with help from other volunteers.

Claire Kenney was there with her sons Colin and Ian, who admired the creations that had arrived so far. Colin, a 5th-grader, and Ian, in 7th grade, have entered most every year of Gingerbread Village.

Terry Brayman arrived with her gingerbread High Tor lean-to, complete with birds perched inside. “I have a whole new appreciation for this,” said Brayman. This was her first attempt at a gingerbread structure. She said it didn’t turn out quite like she had hoped, but she had a lot of fun working on it with her mom, Anita Brayman.

“Each of the villages we have built have involved many people and lots of work and fun,” Cowley said.