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How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange

Cookie exchanges are inherently rewarding. Not only do you have a chance to share one of your family favorites, a cookie swap is a festive way to feed your guests’ spirits with sweet cheer. Nothing beats the lovely afterglow of time spent with friends and a plate brimming with homemade goodies to gift each other’s families. At first glance, a cookie exchange may seem complicated - I certainly thought so - but with this handy how-to, you’ll pull it off without a hitch, just like I did.

Cookie swaps can range from a strict set of rules (no store-bought chocolate chip cookies) to anything goes (simple is super if that’s your style). Go with whatever you think will appeal to your friends without causing them stress.

1. Set the date. Holiday calendars fill up fast. At least four to six weeks before the event, send out your invitations. Choose an Evite or print invitation, whichever makes the most sense for your budget, audience, and time.

2. Timing. During the hectic holiday season, a non-traditional time of the day might work better with your friends’ schedules. For example, instead of an evening gathering, schedule an afternoon tea party.

3. Better by the dozen? Decide on the number of guests. The more guests, the more cookies each guest will need to bring. Typically around two-thirds of invitees will accept an event invitation. If you invite 20, plan for between 12 and 15 guests.

4. Check Yes’ or No. Request that guests respond a week ahead of time in order to give participants time to plan how many cookies to bake. Send a gentle follow-up to any unconfirmed guests the day of your RSVP deadline.

5. Crunch the numbers. Let’s say you have 12 guests. Ask each participant to prepare four-dozen cookies. This ensures every person gets to take at least four cookies from each batch, and each guest returns home with a total of 48 different types of cookies. If this sounds like too many cookies for each person, either decrease the number to three-dozen or have guests donate extras. (More on that later.)

6. Gather the recipes. Ask each of your friends to bring copies of their recipe to share or if you have time, request that your guests email their recipe ahead of time, preferably when they RSVP. Gather the recipes into a clipped cookbook for each guest to take home as a party favor. Confirm with guests about any food or nut allergies.

7. Prep your guests. Participants should arrive with a tray of cookies for sampling and instructions about how they’ll take their treats home. For example, they can bring their own container or as the host, you can provide them with decorated boxes or tins to put treats in. If your friends rally around creativity, challenge them to pre-package their treats as individual giveaways to each guest.

8. Serve simple appetizers and beverages. To complement the sweet, serve savory appetizers that you can prepare ahead of time, like cheese and crackers, mixed nuts, dips and chips, and fresh veggies. Beverages might include milk, apple cider, soda, wine, iced tea, sparkling wines, beer, coffee, or hot chocolate.

9. Share stories. Go around in a circle and ask each of your guests to share a story about the treat that they brought. Listening to my friends recount their family traditions, baking disasters, and childhood memories spent rolling out dough in their grandparent’s or parent’s kitchen made everyone laugh, empathize, and wax nostalgic. We grew closer hearing these stories and the treats took on a life of their own.

10. Give prizes. While this step is optional, it can add extra cheer to the festivities. Ask your guests to vote: Which cookie was the most unusual? Who shared an unforgettable story associated with their treat? Who had the most creative packaging? Whose cookie was almost too beautiful to eat? Hand out simple prizes like tin holiday cookie cutters, a box of tea, a holiday mug, or ornaments.

11. Spread the joy. Offer your friends the option of preparing extra cookies that you can box up and deliver to a local nursing home, police, or fire station, or shelter.

Ideas for compiling recipes:

  • Print recipes on 4 x 6 holiday paper and clip with a loose-leaf metal ring.

  • Retype recipes in different fonts and print off on half sheets of paper. Make a decorative cover out of card stock and staple or clip together.

  • Decorate a cardboard recipe box and place recipes inside.

  • Paste recipes into a small spiral notebook and decorate the cover.

  • Slide recipes into a miniature soft-cover photo album.

  • Ask each guest to bring extra copies of their recipe to put next to their cookie platter for friends to take.

  • Have each guest include a copy of their recipe in each of their giveaway containers.

Freelance journalist Christa is the author of Confidently Connected: A Mom’s Guide to a Satisfying Social Life. Christa resides with her husband and their two sons, who eagerly anticipate when she arrives home from a cookie exchange.

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