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Delicious houses displayed in Petaluma

In its fourth year, the 2019 Gingerbread House Showcase and Competition is just one of many holiday events hosted by the Hotel Petaluma, including food and craft fairs, festival performances and a lobby full of locals and visitors mingling while sharing holiday cheer, along with some great food and drink.

Tonight, Dec. 19, at 6:30 p.m., revelers can enjoy caroling around the courtyard Christmas tree, under the snow, with a caroling book available on Hotel Petaluma’s Facebook page, followed at 8 p.m. by the Petaluma Shakespeare Company’s performance of “The Snowman.” The performance will return on Dec. 20 and 21, both at 7 p.m.

And on Dec. 20 and 27 at 5 p.m., don’t miss “Friday night Flurries” when the snow machine goes into full effect in the courtyard, making for great holiday photos as well as setting the atmosphere for cozying up to the hotel’s great fireplace with a glass of wine and some warm bites from both Barber Cellars and the Shuckery Parlor.

Stepping back in time to last Saturday, Dec. 14, we were in the lobby for one thing and that was to game plan for judging the more than 70 gingerbread houses that had been submitted the day before and were now being marveled at in Hotel Petaluma’s grand ballroom.

The categories included both individuals and groups and was open to anyone who works or lives in Petaluma. Individual entries were kids (ages 7 and under), youth (ages 8-12), teens (ages 13-17), and adults (ages 18 and up). With only one teen participating, this category has a lot of room to grow if you have artistically inclined teenagers who are looking for something to do next holiday season.

Collectives entered as businesses, professionals and family or friend groups.

With first, second and third place awarded in each category, and the houses spread throughout the ballroom, we had our work cut out for us. In the younger categories, there was everything from sugar coated gingerbread castles to well-thought-out candy patterned roofs and yards.

In the more mature categories, you could see some real thought and talent went into the creations, which ranged from standard, yet elaborate winter scenes to creative pieces, such as Petaluma’s historic Three Cooks building, titled “A Very Wishbone Christmas” and a “Mummy’s Christmas” replete with a pyramid and crocodiles pulling what appeared to be a sacred holiday barge up the hard candied Nile River.

There was even a working cuckoo clock – well, at least the clock portion was working. And more prevalent than in years past, lighting was a major part of many gingerbread houses. Other than the cuckoo clock, we did not see moving parts, but I would guess that will change in years to come as more people enter the competition.

The guidelines allowed for kits and pre-made gingerbread, so long as entrants added their own touch. Graham cracker houses were permitted in the kids category. Houses had to have been built this year, could be any type of structure and were to be viewed from all angles, so false fronts were out.

Items in the environment surrounding the houses could be non-edible but the “house” itself was to be edible, although my fellow judges forbade me from testing this out. I figured it was because I had forgotten to bring a big glass of eggnog to help wash it down, but it also might have been due to the fact that there was still another day left for public viewing. However, when we came across a collapsed house, I thought for sure that was my chance, but alas, it was not.

I would have given extra credit to those houses with loose pieces of candy, but unfortunately, this year’s entrants were surprisingly tidy compared to those of yore. I did give additional credence to those who built their own gingerbread houses from the ground up, although in the youngest group, a gingerbread house kit was perfectly fine, so long as the sticky-fingered child added their own flare, and most did just that.

It was obvious that many of these youngsters were thrilled to be given free rein to glue and decorate as they saw fit, which helped explain why some structures looked as if a tornado of candy had been blasted at them from a shotgun. Kudos to Calvin LaVigna for his “Pile on the Pixie Sticks.”

Although one of the main winners was an incredible miniature of the Hotel Petaluma by 10-year-old Nicholas Antonio, I gave a lot of credit to Harper and Stella who created the second, maybe not so structurally sound Hotel Petaluma too. We could tell that they put their hearts and souls into it and were not embarrassed by a bit of imperfection. If given the chance, this likely would have been my first choice to eat because it had so many different candy elements to it, which goes a long way in this sweet tooth’s book.

Maybe that should be a category next year – “most likely to be eaten.” And as a flower grower and fan myself, Macyn’s “A Petaluma Farm” caught my attention due to the details, including a garden filled with beautifully delicious looking flowers as well as rolls of hay made from what appeared to be shredded wheat.

Because there were half a dozen of us judges, there were few clear winners so the scoring sheets went back to the Hotel manager for a final tally and were eventually announced during Sunday’s awards ceremony, which we unfortunately missed. However, the Basso Ladies’ “Castle Basso” was truly spectacular and was properly showcased in the center of the room so guests could marvel at the details that adorned every angle of every side. Along with the judges’ awards, everyone who attended was encouraged to vote for their favorite, which made up the People’s Choice Award.

Supplementing the gingerbread houses and adding to the seasonal spirit, the Hotel offered an accompanying hot chocolate bar, raffles, Petaluma Handmade Craft Fair and a scavenger hunt, with the clues coming from various themes and objects throughout the actual gingerbread houses.

There was also music all weekend and as part of the Sunday awards party, Frozen’s Elsa and Anna were in attendance to take photos with the kids, followed by a visit from Santa.

New for this year, the hotel provided a portrait of Snap, their gingerbread mascot, for kids to color. The Hotel Petaluma donated $5 to COTS (up to $1,000) for every portrait that was colored and adorning the walls of the grand ballroom by the time all was said and done.

For all upcoming events visit Hotel Petaluma’s Facebook page and to book rooms or inquire about renting their ballroom, visit www.hotelpetaluma.com.

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