Host the Best Freakin’ Holiday Cookie Exchange

A good exchange of holiday cookies will give you a feeling of comfort, contentment and joy. Poor cookie sharing is frustrating, unexpectedly competitive, and may lead you to believe that there is such a thing as too many cookies. Stop the terrible cookie exchange. Follow these tips to throw a cookie party your guests will remember fondly in the new year.

Get Organized

A cookie swap or swap is a kind of holiday party where you ask each guest to bring one type of cookie. Everyone comes up with their own suggestions, and you end up with loads of holiday colors, flavors, and combinations for everyone to try and bring home. To keep things as simple as they seem, it’s helpful to stay organized. I know spreadsheets aren’t for everyone, but some document will save you the confusion. Even if it’s handwritten, you need some kind of registry where you can keep track of who brings what. This will also prevent duplicate cookies from appearing at your table. Double or triple bowls of peanut butter cookies may not sound too bad, but they are more likely to become a source of underhand cookie competition. Avoid arguments about cookies and tell invitees they can bring whatever they want, but there will be no repeats. Chances are they will contact you as soon as possible with what they are going to bring, which means your guest list will be sorted much faster.

Ask about food allergies

While you are inviting people, get a list of dietary restrictions. It’s a damn shame to come to a party and find that you can only eat one thing – what you brought. You don’t have to control what other people bring in, but it’s a good idea to provide a few options so your gluten-sensitive guests can grab something delicious. Since you now have a list of who brings what, you can label each cookie with the name and the common allergens it contains. If your friend has a mild nut allergy, consider making nut-free cookies.

Decide on quantity and quality

You know there is a friend who will bring three dozen cookies and someone who will bring seven individual cookies. It’s a good idea to ask everyone to bring a specific number. Usually one to two dozen cookies per person is enough. Then think about quality. Not much if everyone uses Plugra butter, but if purchased cookies are fine. Sometimes you know your friends better than they do. If you’re sure hell must freeze before they bring the wooden spoon to the butter, let them buy their input from a professional. Local bakeries make fabulous holiday cookies, so why not try theirs? Although I would stop there. There’s something decidedly non-festive about two boxes of Entenmann’s appearing on your desk.

Consider the layout

I’ve been to cookie exchanges where all the cookies are on one big table. The participants then line up and make a fancy conga line as they snake around the table. It gives me the buffet feel of a wedding and I don’t like it. I usually like more informal roaming, so I have three or four cookie zones for friends to drop by. I’m sure it also has to do with apartment life and not having a dining table, but I’ll have clusters of cookies on a coffee table, set top box, desk, end table, or kitchen counter. Not only does this prevent crowding and waiting, but it also makes it easy to share those dietary restrictions.

Delivery of takeaway containers

Provide paper containers and paper bags ( or reusable bags you hate ). You can ask your guests to bring their own containers, but there will always be friends who forget theirs or foolishly bring small containers. I prefer long rectangular paper with a ridge on top. They’re affordable, disposable, and flexible so the top can puff up without a cookie crunch, but are structured enough to offer some protection. Have your guests load their loot directly into these containers.

Prevent tons of leftovers

Encourage guests to “exchange” first, and then eat. Guests can walk around with their take-out containers and, depending on the number of cookies you asked to bring, pick up a few of each. Once everyone has finished and filled their boxes, open the floor for general face stuffing. This is when the real food and supplement begins. Packaging aside, everything else is fair game. When everything calms down, invite everyone to take a couple more on the road and don’t forget to keep yourself.


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