FAYETTEVILLE — Eleven months out of the year, Fayetteville is renowned for its rugged, hardcore outdoor wilderness and serious, no-frills, back-to-nature adventures. For the next few weeks, the entire town does a sparkling, glistening 180 — thanks to a massive, extreme holiday makeover.
“We deck the whole town out in gingerbread and Christmas decor — like Hallmark movie-style, with a gingerbread twist,” said Tabitha Stover, executive director of the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
She was standing in a pile of snowy, scalloped Styrofoam, a life-sized gnome behind her and a table full of nutmeg-colored cookies waiting to be frosted just a few feet away. The whitewater rafts have been tucked away, not a zip line or bungee in sight.
“We’ve always gone big for the holidays and Christmas, but then we tapped into the gingerbread theme last year and people really embraced that,” Stover said.
Gingerbread giants are going up all over town, and an army of little gingerbread men is on the way.
By week’s end, the place will be practically dripping with sugar, the cozy shopping district transformed into Gingerbread Lane. Houses and buildings all over town — including the CVB — will look like candy structures, with bigger-than-life lollipops, gumdrops and lights galore, ready for the annual decorating contest.
The celebration peaks during the Fayetteville Gingerbread Festival, Dec. 6-8.
“We’re kind of a whimsical little town, and so it fits perfect for us for the holidays,” Stover said.
There’s a parade, free crafts for kids, a selfie-station, caroling, s’more bars and more. But the thing she’s most excited about, the thing that really pushes the festivities over the top, is the Fayetteville Gingerbread Competition, now in its second year.
Note the absence of the word “house” anywhere in that title.
“We’ve had people make gingerbread trees, gingerbread castles, a lot of gingerbread houses, but we also had gingerbread trains — so anything made out of gingerbread is fair game,” she said.
There’s no particular theme. Age categories will be determined by the entries, and the size is up to each competitor.
The one rule she won’t compromise on? Everything — everything but the base on which your creation is placed — has to be edible. No cardboard sucker sticks. No silver, red and green foil covering those Hershey’s kisses.
“Some people, you know, they might want to put another layer of gingerbread behind their structure just so it doesn’t collapse — or extra icing — but all of that stuff was edible,” she said. “We didn’t have anyone coming in with, like, wood to hold it up, or like cardboard.”
That made for some precarious moments last year as entries were moved to the Fayetteville Town Hall for public judging.
“A lot of people were shaking when they brought their gingerbread houses in, to the point where I was like, ‘I don’t want to even help you carry it,’ because I was so nervous — especially when you’re talking like a 2½-foot-tall carousel, and I mean it totally stayed together,” she said.
It’s all in the secret ingredients.
“We didn’t have any gingerbread houses, after they were dropped off, no collapses. So people really like had their royal icing recipes on lock,” Stover said.
Bigger isn’t necessarily better, she added — some of the smaller pieces from the inaugural year were more intricate and placed in the competition over larger, less detailed ones. Kits, too, are allowed — but not likely to place over the homemade creations.
In the coming years, Stover said, she’d like to see the gingerbread competition grow — and maybe even, someday, rival the National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina.
“We have some Food Network stars,” she said. “Definitely some talent.”
Want to go?Fayetteville Gingerbread Festival Presented by Town of Fayetteville WHEN: Dec. 6-8 WHERE: Various locations in downtown Fayetteville COST: free INFO: visitfayettevillewv.com or 304-574-1500 Friday, Dec. 6 Holiday Art Sampler, in Vitality Aesthetics and Wellness building, 211 West Maple Ave., 6-9 p.m. “On Christmas Day in the Morning,” in Historic Fayette Theater, 115 S. Court St. 7:30 p.m. Winter Wonderland Lights, at Fayette County Park, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 Breakfast with Santa, Cathedral Cafe, 134 S. Court St., 8-11 a.m. Christmas Craft Show, The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building, 200 W. Maple Ave., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Gingerbread Displays and public voting at the Fayetteville Town Hall, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Hansel & Gretel Trail and Christmas Open Houses, town-wide, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Holiday Art Sampler, in Vitality Aesthetics and Wellness building, 211 West Maple Ave., 6-9 p.m. Gingerbread Festival Parade, Maple Avenue, 2 p.m. Gingerbread Kids Activities, Court Street in front of Fayette County Courthouse or Fayetteville Church of God in case of inclement weather, 2:45-5 p.m. Christmas Caroling and Fire Pits, Court Street in front of Fayette County Courthouse, 5 p.m. “On Christmas Day in the Morning,” in Historic Fayette Theater, 115 S. Court St., 7:30 p.m. Adult Christmas Show, Southside Junction Tap House, 101 S. Court St., 8 p.m. to midnight Sunday, Dec. 8 Photos with Santa, 1 to 4 p.m., The Grove, 103 Keller Ave. “On Christmas Day in the Morning,” in Historic Fayette Theater, 115 S. Court St., 2 p.m. Winter Wonderland Lights at Fayette County Park, 6-9 p.m.
Reach Maria Young at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5115 or follow @mariapyoung on Twitter.