Make Your Holiday Party a Cookie Exchange

Cookie exchanges/swaps are a really fun and easy way to get your friends and family together around the holidays. You don’t have to prepare a lot of food for the party since everyone will be brining cookies, everyone has fun sampling cookies and chatting about their favorites AND everyone leaves with a nice assortment of cookies to enjoy on their own or with company over the holiday weeks to come.

If you are thinking about hosting a party this holiday season, I highly recommend a cookie exchange. Believe me, everyone will have a lot of fun. December can be a hard month to get people together since there are so many parties and people tend to be very busy, so we were shocked at how many people actually made it to our cookie exchange and how long everyone stayed and the amazing variety of cookies everyone brought. It was really wonderful to see all our friends and family having such a nice time together. Our house was bursting at the seems with happy people!

To make it a little easier, I thought I’d share a few ideas and tips that worked well for us. Thought the key things are to make it easy and fun.


How cookie exchanges work
You ask everyone to bring a batch of cookies (homemade or store bought) to the party. All the cookies will be put on display at the party for everyone to sample through out the party. Then before guests depart they fill up a bag or reusable container of an assortment of all of the cookies to take home with them. 

Your cooking


Plan to make at least 2 or 3 kinds of cookies so there will already be a bit of an assortment for even the first guests to arrive. Also, given the seemingly growing number of people with food allergies, I’d recommend getting some prepackaged cookies that do not contain most common allergens, or make your own, just be sure to be very careful about accidental contamination with shared kitchen tools. My daughter is actually allergic to eggs and peanuts. Divvies makes yummy cookies without many common allergens and Cherrybrook Kitchen makes cookie mixes that are peanut, dairy, egg and nut free. You can get both brands at Whole Foods (at least the ones I shop at).


It is a good idea to have some easy snacking food around so there are some alternatives to just sweets. For our party we wanted an easy,  make ahead combo of cold/room temp food and warm food.

For cold food we made tabouli and bought olives, hummus and pita to go with it. We also put out an assortment of cheese and crackers.

For warm food, I went with a crowd pleaser and made mini meatballs. I went with mini since I thought they’d be easier to eat standing up. I made them the day before and left them on the stove through the party on simmer so the sauce and meatballs stayed warm the entire time. We put out bowls and slices of yummy crusty bread and everyone just helped themselves.


What you provide will certainly depend on the crowd you invite. We had lots of booze at our party. But at a minimum, I would have some warm apple cider (with some spiced rum on the side for those who want to indulge!), coffee, tea and juice for the kiddos. In my book, champagne goes with everything too and makes everything extra special. 

Setting the table

Treat Bags
Your guests will need something to brink their treats home in. In an attempt to be “greener” we asked people to bring a reusable container from home to pack their assortment of goodies in. But, not everyone will do that, so you will definitely want to have an alternative at the party. What we found worked really well is to get brown paper bags (the kind we used as kids for lunches) and markers. Leave a stack at the beginning of the cookie table with the markers so people can grab a bag, put their name on it and then fill it up with their cookies of choice.

Cookie display
Put out various platters ahead of time so that guests can display the cookies they brought nicely on your table. Many people will bring them in baggies, Tupperware or store bought containers that may not make good serving vessels. You can always remove some of your platters to make room if your guests brought plates of cookies. If you have cake stands, this is a great time to use them, the varying heights will make the table look more interesting and will make it easier to view all of the cookies.

Cookie descriptions
A nice touch is to have cards in front of each of the cookie plates that lists the name of the cookie, the baker and the ingredients (especially common allergens). In your invitation, ask people to bring little cards prefilled to the party to display in front of their cookies. Or offer to make them for your guests if they send you the information beforehand. You should also have cards and pens around for people to write up the information if they didn’t do it beforehand. Though, once the party gets going it can be hard to ask anyone to take a few minutes to write out such a card and count on them remembering all of the ingredients. We used a bunch of place card holders to display the cards. 

Plates and napkins
For trying out all the cookies at the party.

Activities for the kids

IMG_2835Cookie decorating
Create a cookie decorating corner! Make a batch of sugar cookies and cut them in fun holiday shapes, like snowflakes, candy canes, snowmen, etc. Buy or make different color frostings, and get fun sprinkles and candies to decorate the cookies with.

Print out holiday themed pictures and leave out crayons. 

If you have the space and have kids old enough to do crafts, you could have some holiday crafts out. Felt and ribbon to make ornaments, paper cones to decorate like trees, snowflake making supplies, etc.

After the party

I asked our guests to send me their recipes (or bring them to the party) so I could assemble them in one document to email to everyone after the party. That way it was also a recipe swap! I had so many people asking me to ask other guests for specific recipes right after our party, before I got out the compilation!

Some cookie recipes to try

  • Sugar Cookies – Very yummy and great for rolling out and using with cookie cutters
  • Glazed Lemon Cookies – These cookies are very tasty, easy to make AND the best part is you can make the dough ahead of time, pop it in the freezer and then cook them up from frozen right before (or the evening before) the party!
  • Spiced Cardamom Cookies – These are fun since you make different shapes and they are really unique.

Sample invitation

Relaxing Afternoon and Cookie Exchange at the <Your Name> House

Come join us for an afternoon/evening of eating, drinking and relaxing by the fire! December can often be hectic and busy, we invite you to take a break with us for this informal gathering on <insert date>. Show up any time you can after 2PM. We’ll have snacks and a plethora of drinks. Kids are welcome.

Now about the cookie exchange…we thought it would be fun to try! And given we will all likely have visitors over the following weeks, a variety of yummy treats in the house can only be a good thing. It is completely optional, so no pressure to break out your apron. This is how it will work:

– Bring a batch or 2 of cookies – homemade or not

– If you want to go the extra mile, you can include a few copies of your cookie recipe to share

– If you bring cookies, you can take some that others brought in exchange

– In order to “reduce”, bring a reusable container to use to collect your goodies if you have one handy

– And of course, we’ll munch on some that afternoon

For the older kids, we will set up cookie decorating area with some kind of ginger bread or sugar cookies

If you are bringing cookies, please also bring a list of ingredients (particularly, allergens) or be prepared to write one here that we can leave with your plate of cookies since we will probably have at least two kids with nut allergies. Please also include the name of the cookie and the chef/household who brought them so everyone knows who brought what and can offer praises for favorites!

When: <date>

Where: <address>

Home Number: <phone>

Let us know if you think you’ll stop in. Looking forward to seeing you!

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