At the Festival of Gingerbread, a sign discourages visitors from touching the fragile entries, leaning on tables and pulling on tablecloths – rules parents promptly tell their children upon entering the History Center's Shields Room.
But all those don'ts don't take away the fun.
Sue McCarrol and Lynda Smith were among the attendees Sunday who relied on their knowledge of snack items and popular culture while determining what displays were depicting and how the creators pulled it off.
“I bet this is out of National Lampoon's,” McCarrol said to Smith of a white and blue camper decorated with Christmas lights.
Although the Larson family's entry didn't explicitly indicate they were inspired by the movie “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,” the edible RV was clearly Cousin Eddie's, complete with the character holding a sewage hose.
Other franchises – including “Harry Potter,” “Jurassic Park” and “Toy Story” – also are honored in the 34th annual Festival of Gingerbread, which ends Dec. 15. It boasts 146 entries – an amount just shy of the record 149 set in 2013, said Todd Maxwell Pelfrey, the center's executive director.
This year's near-record participation is commendable, he said, as dozens of visitors wove around the sugary displays.
“It just continues to show the Festival of Gingerbread has really been embraced by our community,” Pelfrey said.
The event typically attracts about 12,000 people annually, he said, and this season is off to a great start. Opening day Friday had one of its biggest turnouts at nearly 1,000 visitors, he said, and by Sunday afternoon total attendance had surpassed 2,300.
Pelfrey recommends people visit on weekday afternoons if they want to avoid the crowds.
McCarrol described the festival as a Fort Wayne tradition. “My girls grew up coming to this,” she said.
“It's just a delight,” she added.
Smith, her friend, agreed. She marveled at the clever designs, which were made by children, teens, adults, families and professionals.
“Every one is so different,” Smith said. “It's just a joy to see all this creativity.”
Entries may represent a year or more of planning. Participants sometimes talk about their ideas for the next year while dropping off a finished product, Pelfrey said.
“Some will spend well over one year in the design process,” he said.
Participants turned Smarties into sidewalks, Chex into shingles, waffle cones into tepees, coconut flakes into snow, graham crackers into a schoolhouse floor and unwrapped Starburst into gifts for a display celebrating 50 years of Sesame Street.
Pelfrey enjoys seeing participants' skills improve throughout the years. Some have refined their artistry enough to win an award, he said.
“That makes the awards process even more special,” Pelfrey said.
While the gingerbread displays were the focal point, Smith appreciated the extra seasonal décor from two former downtown department stores: animatronic figures included in holiday displays at Wolf & Dessauer, and the Christmas Carol watercolors hung at Patterson Fletcher.
“It adds so much to the Christmas spirit,” Smith said.