SEBRING - It took a full day of baking, then four days of careful assembly to create an edible winter wonderland.
After more than 30 years of following a family Christmas tradition in Bolivia, Billy and Betty Work and their daughter, Melody, created a delightful gingerbread Christmas village in the fellowship hall at the SIM Retirement Village off Sparta Road.
The village has about 11 lighted structures, including a manger, a church, a barn with a silo and houses. Each house has a Christmas tree and people inside and at least one gingerbread bird on the roof. Outside each structure, a small chocolate rectangle serves as an entryway step. The tall trees are made with upsidedown ice cream cones. The pathways are made with chocolate sprinkles.
Each roof features a different type of candy or edible such as shredded wheat, mints, candy corns in Christmas colors, Smarties, M&M's, gum (Chiclets), fruit roll ups and sour gummies.
It looks and smells like a gingerbread village.
Bill and Betty Work started their gingerbread village tradition about 32 years ago during their 42 years as missionaries in Bolivia.
Now retired, this is their first gingerbread village stateside. Their daughter, Melody, who visiting from Calgary, Canada, also worked on the project.
The last one they made in Bolivia was about twice the size of this year's effort, Betty noted.
Over the years they have refined their art of making relatively sturdy structures from candies, icing and gingerbread.
Popsicle sticks, which are covered in icing swirls, are used for reinforcement on the inside walls. After the structures are in place, the cotton batting is laid out to cover the wiring that is used to light the structures.
A dehumidifier keeps the moisture from deteriorating the gingerbread.
This year they found a new way of holding things up, Betty said. They used Styrofoam on the back of small trees and other objects instead of gobs of icing.
During their travels and shopping trips the Works purchase unique candies for their village. For example the mints came form South Caroline and the Christmas candy corns, in red, green and white, came from an Amish store in Sarasota.
The Works started work on their latest village about two weeks ago with a day of baking
Melody arrived Dec. 14 and they started constructing it in the fellowship hall on Dec. 15.
Dec. 16, 17, 18 they worked on it from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. and finished up with a 7 a.m. - noon session Dec. 19 in time for an event that evening.
Stopping by to see the village, Chris and Diane Marine said they had never seen anything like it.
"It's amazing," Chris said.
Diane said it is "amazing" with all the detail and colors and different candies.
"I can't imagine all the work you put into this," she told the Works.
Betty explained what happened to their previous gingerbread villages after the holidays.
"In Bolivia we had two families, and one family had three and the other had two children, so they were each able to choose a house, and we told them the next house they had to give to a child who did not have a nice Christmas," she said. "They tore it apart on the 6th of January.
"But, here we are not quite sure what to do with it because of all of the regulations nowadays," Betty said with a laugh. A kid may bite into a gingerbread wall and get piece of a popsicle stick ,and the icing has egg whites, she said.
Bill said they will probably let each resident at the retirement village take a house to enjoy at their home.
The Works don't keep track of the costs as they buy items throughout the year and then baking supplies as needed when they start putting it together.
Bill said on two trips to the supermarket recently to buy three or four bags of confectioners' sugar each time, he had the same checkout lady who wondered what his wife was making with so much sugar.