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Gingerbread Man Ornament photosculptureby Sherry Law

Hosting a Christmas cookie exchange can be a great way of getting together with close friends and taking a couple of hours to visit and relax during the hustle and bustle of the season. The added bonus is that you will be going home with a variety of homemade cookies to share with your family without the hassle or expense of spending days in the kitchen. Never hosted a cookie exchange? Here are some cookie exchange ideas to make planning your event a little easier.

CHOOSE THE DATE: Most people find that the first or second week of December is the best time. This is before most of the season’s parties and will give your guests time to enjoy their cookies during the upcoming holidays. Before deciding whether to have your event on a weekend afternoon or in the morning or evening, think about who you are inviting – take into account work schedules, family and religious obligations and other events that could conflict with your event.

INVITE YOUR GUESTS: Invite guests early, giving them about a month’s notice. Use either printed invitations from your computer or an online party planning web-sites, such as Evite.com. Pick invitations that look like recipe cards or maybe one of the holiday invitations with cookies on them. If you are mailing invitations, remember the postal service is a bit slow this time of year. Plan on inviting between 8 and 12 people. Less people means less variety and fewer cookies to take home, but the thought of making 15 or 20 dozen cookies could be daunting to some of your intended guests.

SET THE “GROUND RULES” FOR THE EXCHANGE: Let guests know that they should bake only one kind of cookie and should bring a dozen for each invited guest, plus one dozen extra. Decide whether the cookies must be homemade or if bakery cookies are acceptable and relay this to your guests. Homemade cookies should be encouraged. Remind them to bring their cookies on a pretty plate or platter to display at the exchange. Be sure and remind guests that they should bring a container to take their cookies home in. NOTE: If you found yourself inviting 15 or 20 people, only ask your guests to bring a half dozen cookies per guest, rather than a full dozen.

HAVE YOUR GUESTS RSVP WITH THE RECIPE OF THE COOKIE THEY WILL BE BRINGING: Not only will this give you the chance to print out everyone’s recipes on recipe cards or in a mini-cookbook for each guest, it will let you know if you’re going to end up with 4 or 5 people bringing the same type of cookie. If this happens, call around and ask a couple of the guests if they would be able to bring a different kind of cookie. If someone doesn’t RSVP, don’t hesitate to call and ask whether they are coming. Also, it’s a good idea to call people a week or so before the exchange and make sure they haven’t forgotten it in the excitement of the season.

MAKE LABELS FOR EVERYONE’S COOKIES: Prior to the exchange, make labels or place cards to go with everyone’s cookies. Each should have the name of the cookie and the baker’s name and be placed beside the corresponding platter of cookies. Hand-printed or printed on the computer, these can be as simple or as fancy as you like.

BE PREPARED: Use a large table so there is plenty of room for everyone’s cookies. Have extra platters available for guests who bring their cookies in a plastic bag (yes, it will happen), as well as extra plastic bags and boxes for those who forget containers to take their cookies home in. Don’t forget to have a large tray to put the “extra dozens” of cookies on as the guests arrive.

SET THE ATMOSPHERE: Even though it is early in the month, be sure and decorate to help get your guests into the Christmas spirit. A green, gold or red table cloth, some greenery with glittering Christmas tree lights threaded through it and some tiny Christmas balls will give your cookie exchange a festive feel. Serve some spiced cider, coffee, tea or eggnog to go with the cookies and be sure and have Christmas music playing the background. If you feel the need to serve food other than the cookies, be sure it is something that is simple and can be prepared ahead of time.

BE ORGANIZED BUT HAVE FUN: Games and door prizes aren’t a “must”, but they are fun – have categories for door prizes could include “Best Decorated Cookie”, “The Cookie with The Most Ingredients”, “The Most Exotic Cookie”, etc. Be sure that when it is time to divide up the cookie, everyone takes home either a half dozen or a dozen of each type of cookie. Give out the recipe booklets as the guests are getting ready to leave.

If there are cookies left over on the platter (if everyone brings an extra dozen, there probably will be) put them in a bag and take them to an area nursing home, retirement community or food bank. Another option might be to ask if anyone at the exchange knows a family in need of assistance during the holidays. Though many churches and community organizations help out with food for Christmas dinner and gifts for the children, cookies are sure to be appreciated.

Hosting your first Christmas Cookie Exchange can be challenging, but hopefully these cookie exchange ideas will help yours be the talk of the season!