Gingerbread house from 2016 competition

The Christmas season is filled with all types of excitement, and our traditions come in all forms, some are for the most part always the same and some have new aspects every year.

My visit to the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville for the 24th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition was outstanding. This event garners national attention and certainly carries significant bragging rights for the winners.

Tracey Johnson-Crum is my inside connection and Gingerbread/Hot Chocolate tour guide; she is the best because she also knows the history of the Grove Park Inn and sees all the new Ginger Bread House entries as they arrive. Tracey told me that most of the creations are driven in from across the country, some do come by plane. However, the atmospheric conditions of flight can cause great problems for a would be gingerbread masterpiece.

I enjoy eating gingerbread and if a cup of good hot chocolate is nearby, all the better. In the grand lobby at the Grove Park Inn amidst all the holiday splendor there is a life size Ginger Bread House, and that is where I enjoyed a decadent cup of hot chocolate. It was topped with fresh whipped cream and drizzled with even more wonderful flavors, gently placed on the whipped cream and resting on the rim of the mug was a freshly made square marshmallow from the chef’s kitchen. I will not soon forget the perfection served in that mug.

The 2016 winners were certainly impressive. The grand prize winner was Beatriz Müller of Ontario, Canada, with her “Dream House” creation.

First place in the teen category (ages 13 to 17) was won by the Courtland High School German Program team from Spotsylvania, Virginia. Perry Pate from Hickory, North Carolina, took first place in the youth category (ages 9 to 12).

The impressive display with more than 150 entries attracts about 100,000 spectators annually and has become a family tradition for many. The display starts around Thanksgiving and is open for six weeks.

I also found myself on another mountain in Spruce Pine at Buck Stove on this same weekend for another traditional Christmas activity that involves helping others. While I believe we often come to the aid of our neighbors when in need, it seems like the Christmas season fosters even greater participation.

Buck Stove is a manufacturer of wood and gas burning stoves and a list of other products including outdoor furniture the new Bucks Tiny Houses. They have a 300,000-square-foot facility in Spruce Pine, and everything is made in America.

Not so long ago I had the opportunity to tour the factory, I witnessed what can best be described as hard working people who care about each other, their community, and they take pride in their craft and our nation.

I was not surprised when a few days after the tour I received a message from Susan, who visited the factory with me and works with our TV show. Susan is from Tennessee and has family in the Sevier area that was so devastated by the Nov. 28 fire. Susan told me she was going to volunteer with the folks at Buck Stove as they were putting together a Bluegrass fundraiser “Christmas for the Smokies” to benefit the Dolly Parton Foundation’s My People Fund.

I recalled the story about how Buck Stove had to rebuild after a major fire in the past and the story about a big Spruce Pine fire that dramatically affected the small downtown area.

So here we have a business and a small community that knows what it’s like to try to recover after a major fire and during an already busy time of the year they work together and pull off an event to raise money to help their mountain neighbors.

I am glad I had the opportunity to enjoy the traditions of gingerbread, hot chocolate and the compassion of good mountain neighbors.

Carl White is the executive producer and host of the award winning syndicated TV show “Carl White’s Life In the Carolinas.” The weekly show is in its seventh year of syndication and can be seen in the Greenville, Spartanburg viewing market on WLOS ABC 5 a.m. Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays at WMYA My 40. Visit www.lifeinthecarolinas.com, email White at Carl@lifeinthecarolinas.com.