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Back in late 2002 Better Homes and Gardens had a Christmas season feature in their magazine on a holiday cookie exchange. I loved the article, read it and reread it, and although it was too late that year to host or plan the exchange I determined that the next year that was my plan for a new Christmas Tradition. The next year rolled around and my sister and I decided that this was our year.
We spent a very pleasant afternoon baking every cookie that you could imagine, taste testing and designing newer and better means to decorate them and make them look more appetizing and appealing and planning down to the last detail every aspect of the holiday get together and we did in fact hold our own cookie exchange however, that was the first year of a little tradition that went along with our cookie exchange.

We still, five years later, have a cookie exchange, but we enjoy our second get together more, when we are free to laugh and chatter and let the children in the kitchen to test and taste as we spend a day baking something new and unique each year and exploring our new options.

Our holiday cookie exchange has become a twofold tradition for us. Prior to the exchange we get together to bake them and to chat, and plot the exchange, while later we share them with family and friends.

To set up your own holiday cookie exchange now is the perfect time to begin. These are both special occasions for us that we look forward to all year long. While the one which was featured was a bit more elegant than ours, because we tend toward casual entertaining, we do in fact arrange the tables, and set up the decorations and do all the little things that make a party elaborate and memorable.

I collect Nutcrackers ( a fact which makes my sister shudder, having something of a nutcracker phobia) and they are marching across every surface in our home at holiday time, some of them doubling as centerpieces when settled down on top of a bed of pine boughs to decorate the sideboard or table.

The door bears a wreath wound with ground pines and herbs and red berries, and with a welcoming feel to it, inside the door ideally will hold a punch bowl that has a red holiday punch, or mulled cider, while on the sideboard we have fresh eggnog.

We’ve incorporated a new area that we think suits us, with the advent of so many children and grandchildren. Since our move to Nebraska, knowing fewer people our parties tend to be smaller and make it easier to set up a table where the children who attend decorate their own cookies, presided over by my daughter in law, who provides myriad kinds of decorations, including sugars, sprinkles, nuts and small candies as well as diverse frosting colors so they can if they like, create a whole fleet of Santa’s and Gingerbread men who are each adorned differently than the other.

The refreshments are of course, Christmas cookies, however not those which the guests provide for the exchange, but rather other favorites that we’ve baked in the days prior to the party. We also add some types of candies, small finger sandwiches and a lot of appetizers such as crackers and cheese and relish tray type things, so that the food is easy to prepare, easy to serve and not so difficult to eat.

We find our brood likes soft drinks or coffee far better than tea so we don’t incorporate the tea aspects of it here as we did before the move, but we do add some things that everyone likes, such as various kinds of soft drinks, punches and cocoa.

Being a professional, my daughter in law likes to bake literally hundreds of the small sugar cookies that are decorated, however one way to have more time prior to the party for setup, would be to purchase the sugar cookies for the children to decorate at one of your favorite cookie stores while you concentrate on your own additions to the cookie exchange.

Our party was generally a weekend afternoon affair so that we had more time to interact and to visit with each other than we might have had we waited to hold it until evening.

The cookies for the exchange are laid out on a well decorated table, each persons offerings set up in batches of two or three dozen, and we have some lovely holiday bags set out with ties, so that each person brings two dozen, but may take one or two of each kind, to make up their own two dozen so that they have a diverse mixture when they leave, a sampling of everyones baking talents.

We began about 3 and usually around 8 or 9, the last of our guests was leaving, having done battle over their favorite cookies or the most beautiful or decorative.

Some ideas for your own cookie exchange that we’ve found to be helpful and necessary are listed below..

  1. Send invitations at least three weeks in advance. The holidays tend to be a busy time and people do like to plan ahead for things such as this. BE creative. Send them along with a recipe for your cookies or on a card bearing a photo of last years exchange.
  2. Determine well ahead of time how many cookies each person will bring for the exchange. We found two or three dozen a fair number for the smaller get togethers, while a dozen worked well when the numbers of guests got to be larger.
  3. Break out your most lavish decorations and really make it festive.Your guests be be delighted at the atmosphere and it becomes far more animated when the house is geared up for the holiday season.
  4. Make certain that you plan activities for the children so that they too have a good time and are not bored or searching your house for something to occupy them.
  5. Do be sure to add a stack of cards with the recipe for your cookies near your own tray and encourage your guests to do the same so that not just the cookies themselves are shared, but the way to make them.

For some good ideas for cookies to take to your own cookie exchange, pop on over to christmascookies.com.

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