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This is Day 28 of the 30 Days to a Debt Free Christmas Challenge
One of the most fun holiday traditions I participate in every year is a cookie exchange party. Luckily, I don’t have to host one, since I have a good friend who throws an annual party which is the highlight of kicking off the Christmas season. Now, her party has become such an annual milestone for everyone that we all plan in advance and look forward to it every year, and she makes it very glamorous, but a cookie exchange party can be very simple as well.
This would be a great tradition to start with your own family or friends, and it can also be a great way to have a variety of cookies without the expense of baking everything yourself.
Here are some tips and suggestions for throwing a holiday cookie exchange party, and, as always, you can tailor it to be the kind of party that works best for you!
Really, you can invite anyone! Think about if there is a group of people you want to see every year, or even just this year! Who do you not already get a chance to celebrate with?
My friend started her party as a way to get to know the people in her neighborhood, but it has since evolved to be the neighbors who keep coming back and and some other new friends. I have heard of parties that limit it to a certain number of guests (in order to have perfect cookie math), but my friend and I always subscribe to the “more, the merrier” theory! *Do keep in mind that you have to invite more than you plan to host, not everyone will be able to come!
You can do this in any way that works for you, classic snail mail invites, flyers, email, Facebook, etc. I would encourage you to look at what date you want to host the party and get the invites out ASAP since the holidays and December tend to fill up for people!
Because my friend’s party has become an annual tradition, she actually sends out a save the date card (sometimes on paper, sometimes by email) around October and then sends the real invites about 2 weeks prior to the party. I love this system because it’s important to me to block out the party on my calendar!
You can be very creative or make things very easy here! My friend asks everyone to bring 4 dozen cookies (preferably of 1 kind) but otherwise the sky’s the limit! You could make rules about how homemade or Christmas-y they have to be, but sometimes it’s just more fun to see what everyone will choose to bring. Having laid-back cookie requirements also makes it easier for non-bakers and busy parents or workers to still feel like they can participate.
There are a few schools of thought about this. One way to do it is to ask people to prepackage their cookies into so many smaller packages that can be redistributed. Honestly, that’s very pretty but way more work for the guests and you have to kind of guess at the right amount!
The other option (and this is my favorite) is to display all the cookies on a big table, and then guests walk around the table, taking only a few at a time, until everyone has enough and the cookies are gone. My friend provides nice big boxes (like the kind you gift clothes in) for everyone to collect their cookies in! This method lets people take less or none of a kind they might not like and it allows the guest list to be very flexible right up until the last minute!
It would be a rare occasion in this day and age to host a party where at least one of your guests doesn’t have some kind of food allergy. Be sure to consider this when setting up your event. Either be aware of the food allergies your guests have or ask them to please let you know. There are 2 guests at my friend’s annual event who are gluten free, but they either give the cookies to their families or away to others, so they don’t mind if the cookies contain gluten. One even jokes that it prevents her from eating them and she appreciates that during such a junk food season!
Try to include a few options for those who do want cookies that they can safely eat. You can either provide these yourself or recruit a few other guests to help you. You might have a smaller swap of allergy friendly foods, or set up a Google doc ahead of time to coordinate recipes and folks who can make them. Guests who bring regular cookies can also have a label with ingredients to be aware of, like nuts, coconut, etc. Also be careful of contamination. Gluten free cookies that are on the same platter as regular cookies can quickly cease to be gluten free!
One of the best parts about our annual cookie party is that there is a little competition built in! The first year, no one really knew, but now, many of us try to go all out! Again, this is not required, so people can still show up with any type of cookie that works for them, but it just make it more fun. There are four awards you can win: best taste, most unique, best decorated, and most creative. This range allows many people and cookies to win, even those who didn’t have hours to painstakingly decorate!
Before we rotate around the table to pick up our cookies, we hover around to look at all of the wonderful yumminess and place votes for each category. The hostess usually takes one cookie and breaks it into small tasting bites for us to sample. The actual awards can be fun, silly, and made on a paper plate, or you can choose to do a small gift award, like a gingerbread house or an ornament.
If you love this kind of thing and want to go all out, here are some fun aspects you can add to your event.
As much fun as it is to go over the top, it’s not always practical or may not be part of this year’s budget. In that case, here are a few ways to make it more simple.
An event like this is most fun if it become an annual tradition! My friends and I look forward to this event the most each holiday season. Making it a yearly tradition allows both you and your guests to plan ahead, save money, and look forward to enjoying community. You can often find great sales right after Christmas that can help you to prepare for next year, or take advantage of the Halloween and Thanksgiving sales to prepare your baking items. Create an event and environment that people enjoy and look forward to, then you can enjoy a yearly event which won’t break the bank.
Don’t love some of these guidelines, that’s ok! As always, this is to get you started and then you can run with what works for you! Maybe you’d rather use the event to swap and then wrap cookie plates that can be delivered straight to others, co-workers, or family members. Maybe you’d like to make it a mother/daughter tea and do some decorating together or build your own gingerbread houses.
Do whatever will be best for you, to celebrate the traditions you already have, make new ones you love, celebrate with the people you love, honor your Christmas budget, and have fun!