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Nuts about GingerBread

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The Grays work together to make ‘gingerbread season’ a family affair
Jamie Lusch / Mail tribuneDave Gray works on part of his gingerbread display for this year’s Gingerbread Jubilee.
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneDave Gray shows off his gingerbread skills.
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneDave Gray applies color to his gingerbread creation.
Courtesy photo Dave Gray’s family won first place in the mixed-age group category at the 2020 GingerBread Jubilee for “Nutcracker Prince.”

A thousand dollars is on the line, but Dave Gray says he would enter an annual baking contest even if his only reward was a candy cane.

“I’m not totally nuts yet,” says the Medford resident.

Gingerbread fever, however, grips Gray’s entire family once summer subsides. Gray, a 63-year-old retired park ranger, finishes his maintenance and groundskeeping work for local state parks just in time to begin baking. His wife, daughters and grandsons also consider the months between Labor Day and Thanksgiving “gingerbread season.”

“It’s just like another season — another holiday,” says Gray’s daughter, 38-year-old Katy Gray of Medford.

The Grays’ enthusiasm has brought progressively better showings at the annual GingerBread Jubilee, where they won first place in last year’s mixed-age group category. In 2018, they took second place, improving on 2017’s third-place finish. The Jubilee’s grand prize is $1,000 for best in show out of more than $3,500 awarded in three categories.

The Grays’ first Jubilee entry was in 2015, after Dave and wife, Francine, relocated from San Jose, California. The couple’s daughters had introduced them a few years earlier to the Jubilee at downtown Medford’s Collier Center for the Performing Arts, where Dave said, “I could do that.”

The can-do attitude of longtime Jubilee bakers has bolstered Craterian Performances through the coronavirus pandemic. Although the celebration of entirely edible artworks was significantly scaled back for 2020 and 2021, the Jubilee — planned Nov. 19-23 — still draws roughly the same number of entries as in previous years and has surpassed fundraising expectations, says Aspen Droesch, Craterian development director.

“We did get a lot of really positive feedback,” says Droesch.

A figure slightly reduced from previous years, $223,000 raised in 2020 pushed the Jubilee total over $2.4 million generated since its 2003 inception, says Droesch. A livestreaming auction and gala stand a good chance of restoring this year’s fundraising figure to pre-pandemic levels.

“I almost feel like I’m planning a completely new event,” says Droesch.

Statewide restrictions on public gatherings accelerated too quickly in 2020 for the Jubilee to move its gala entertainment online. This summer’s surge of the delta variant prompted the Jubilee — like many organizations — to scrap plans for an in-person event but left plenty of time to orchestrate virtual festivities.

“I think that we’ve embraced a lot of technology that makes for greater success,” says Droesch.

The livestreaming gala will kick off at 7 p.m. Nov. 19, providing an hour of visual and musical spectacles, a 2022 Craterian season preview and a behind-the-scenes look at 2021 highlights, concluding with the live auction of 10 premier packages that boast travel accommodations, private parties and theater tickets, along with the top five gingerbread pieces, says Droesch. The event is free and open to the public — instead of just a couple hundred ticket holders — who can register online to bid through Nov. 22. See craterian.org/support-us/gingerbread-jubilee/

Also free for virtual streaming is the community tour, which typically hosts 30,000 people over several days at the theater. While the virtual tour takes viewers inside the Collier Creative Center, in-person observation outside through the building’s large windows is encouraged Nov. 19-23 at 50 N. Fir St. Anyone interested in bidding, says Droesch, can peruse the cookie and candy creations — free of charge — Friday before the auction opens later in the evening.

Hopes for the Jubilee’s return to “normal” in 2022 for its 20th year do collide with support, says Droesch, for continuing to display the gingerbread pieces at the Collier Creative Center, a former Scan-Design, instead of returning them to the theater several blocks away. It’s much easier to get the fragile sculptures in and out of the new location, says Gray, and their arrangement — although behind glass — allows for getting even closer to some pieces.

A reconfigured Jubilee has only encouraged Gray’s own unconventional gingerbread designs, rendered last year as a 26-inch-tall nutcracker figurine.

“I think outside the box,” he says. “That’s what keeps me going — I’m always trying to do something different.”

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.