A gingerbread house smells of spices and is covered with snow drifts of icing. In the house, a marzipan cat stretches on a rug. A confectionery Santa grins at piles of gum drops.
It's almost too much for visitor Annie Lastihenos. "I could eat this house - it would be so yummy!" she says.
Unfortunately for Annie, this confectionery fantasy of Santa's Workshop is safely behind lucite at the Children's Museum of Manhattan. It's part of a competition and exhibit of 12 gingerbread houses designed by some of New York's top hotel pastry chefs and sponsored by the Hotel Association of New York City.
The gingerbread exhibit is one of the ways the museum informs and entertains nearly 1,000 children per day during the holiday season. As it has been doing for the past three years since it opened on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the museum also explains the celebrations and traditions of Christmas, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa (an African-American holiday). Children can take part in a Scandinavian Christmas tradition, the procession of Santa Lucia. There are concerts of merry music and
a winter solstice celebration with sword dancers.
"We try to give a cross-cultural look at the holidays," says Felicity Beil, associate coordinator of public programs.
But, gingerbread cuts across all cultures. On Dec. 12, the winner of the contest, Randy Eastman, the pastry chef at the Peninsula, gave a workshop at the Museum on how to build gingerbread masterpieces.
Mr. Eastman explained to about 30 children that he and his staff began the process Oct. 15 and worked on the house - the one admired by Annie - every day through Dec. 1. The entire house, including the furniture inside, was made to scale from cardboard before being created from various confectioneries, baked, iced, and painted. It is the third year in a row the hotel has won the contest.
As Eastman showed the children how to create the confectionery houses, one child told him, "I don't know if I could build a house that big." Eastman reminded the child that persistence counts, replying, "Oh, I think you could if it was your main goal, and you worked on it every day."
Despite the special holiday programs, Ms. Beil says the most popular event is the regularly scheduled performance of Schlomo and his musical instruments. He lets children touch the instruments and explains to them how they work. "The accordion is the most popular - with a three-button accordion, even a three-year-old can sound good," says Beil.
* For holiday hours and additional information, call The Denver Children's Museum at (303) 433-7433, The Children's Museum in Boston at (617) 426-8855, The Los Angeles Children's Museum at (213) 687-8800, or The Children's Museum of Manhattan at (212) 721-1234.