Another year; another impressive Gingerbread Burn!

Gingerbread mythical creatures burn to start the new year at the annual Dome School Gingerbread Burn Dec. 31
(Photo courtesy of Jill Shidler for the Illinois Valley News)

A unique tradition that’s taken hold in Takilma is the annual New Year’s Eve Gingerbread Burn. Come rain, snow or moonshine, community members and visitors gather at the Dome School for live music, dancing and the year’s imaginative gingerbread displays.
At midnight each year the gingerbread creations are taken outside, lovingly placed upon a giant pyre, and torched! Some spectators might express a bit of sadness as these marvelous wonders sizzle and melt away, but Jill Shidler, who cofounded the event 14 years ago, said the burning “represents the impermanence of life and offers lessons about nonattachment.”
Each year there’s a theme – and this year it was mythical creatures. Nine colorful displays included unicorns, Bigfoot, a Loch Ness monster, a kraken, an angel, a Thunderbird, a dragon, some elves, fairies, mushroom castles and more! Children line up before these magical offerings, staring at them – captivated.
Shidler, along with Jill Talise, the creator of Coyote Rising Giant Puppets, and the late Frank Anderson, all regularly attended the annual summertime Burning Man Festival in the deserts of Nevada.
“Burning Man inspired us,” Talise said. “We chose the Dome School’s New Year’s Eve party so that a lot of people could enjoy the show. The event developed a life of its own and now has a large following. And we still hold a space for Frank, now that he’s not with us anymore. He was a big part of the whole thing.”
The New Year’s Eve event is a fundraiser for the school, and Talise said all the gingerbread entries always stand equal to each other. “It’s not a competition, so there’s no winners. We’d rather encourage each other than compete.”
The gingerbread burn got its start after Shidler had gone through a break-up. “I was sad and my friends were cheering me up. We decided to make some gingerbread creations and chose to do a trailer park. So we built three trailers and took them, along with some fireworks, to the annual Dome School New Year’s Eve Bash and sent them out in a blaze of glory at midnight.”
A new tradition was born.
Community organizers Suzanne Vautier and Tim Mondragon eventually became involved in facilitating the annual event.
“Everyone really likes this a lot; people look forward to this every year,” Vautier said. “My favorite part is watching people look at the gingerbreads, especially the kids. There’s kids in Takilma who probably think that burning gingerbread on New Year’s Eve is a thing that happens everywhere.”
“We all do this together,” Mondragon said. “Jill Talise is the backbone of this event, she collects the firewood and gets everyone going. She opens her house for the gingerbread-making parties and we all pitch in. Under the pyre we might stuff old Christmas trees, wrapping paper, boxes from presents and more.”
The gingerbread construction parties start months before the event, with friends coming together to fabricate their artistic creations. Even though the one-of-a-kind creations are destined to become dust on the last day of the year, participants never cut any corners.
“The art work keeps getting better each year,” Mondragon said, “and we like to see which gingerbread designs will burn the longest.”
This year the weather cooperated with a beautiful clear night between storm fronts. Embracing the spirit of the event, more than 100 people circled up around the pyre. Mondragon said some of these fire-watchers had skipped the event inside, but came out from around the community at midnight to watch the burning.
Indoors, participants were entertained by three bands: The Fountainhead, with special guest, Bluessence, and then Cosmic Trigger rounded out the musical program.