Christmas at the Mormon Trail Center in Omaha, Neb., and at the Kanesville Tabernacle in Council Bluffs, Iowa, includes the sights — and smells — of gingerbread.
The annual holiday displays of gingerbread creations have a long tradition of providing added seasonal joy to their respective communities, and the events have become favorite attractions of the Thanksgiving and Christmas season in the Middle Missouri Valley.
Currently in its 25th year, the "Gingerbread Display" began in 1986 with 30 gingerbread creations being showcased. Today, between the two locations, there are about 300 magical gingerbread creations on display that include a miniature Polar Express train, nativity scenes, traditional houses and a scene from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
This annual event started when the Relief Society made gingerbread houses as a fundraising event to help with the construction of a new LDS Church building. They had such fun doing this that the stakes in the area decided to create an annual display for the public. Instead of selling their creations, the Relief Society sisters were joined by others to provide a free display located at the site of the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery, which now includes the Mormon Trail Center.
Initially, the display was open only a short time. Due to the popularity of the event, it was soon expanded to beginning the week before Thanksgiving and continuing through New Year's Eve. About six years ago, the Kanesville Tabernacle was added as an additional location for the Gingerbread Display.
Members in the Omaha, Council Bluffs and Papillion stakes, working with the director of the Trail Center and the Tabernacle, provide the organization and volunteer help that is needed to run this annual event. The individual gingerbread creations are welcome from residents in the area communities.
Both locations also have Christmas trees, live musical performances along with a variety of short Christmas-centered movies.
As a result of the hundreds who daily visit these gingerbread displays, many take guided tours of the facilities and learn about the history of the pioneers and the LDS Church. Tours in both locations commence with a focus on Jesus Christ, who is the real reason for the Christmas celebration.
Hoyt W. Brewster Jr. is the director of the Mormon Trail Center and the Kanesville Tabernacle.