Saturday, November 29, 2014

Hosting a Cookie Exchange

Most definitely one of the highlights to the Christmas season is my annual cookie exchange I host each year. It's a great time for some of my closest friends, family members and I to get together and have a good time. We get a chance to catch up on what's going on in our lives, eat some really good food, play games and of course, swap cookies!

Cookie exchanges are becoming more popular but maybe you've never been to one or even heard of the idea for that matter. It's simply a party where individuals bring a prepared cookie of their choice and exchange with the others in attendance. You leave with the same number of cookies you came with, but only with a large assortment now. I love to schedule mine close enough to the holidays so that the ladies can bring them along to their parties and gatherings if they're needing to supply a dessert.

Have you thought about hosting your own exchange but not sure where to begin? I'm here to help you out! You've still got plenty of time. So let's get started:

Choose your date, time and location- A weekend afternoon might work best depending on your group. I usually aimed for a Sunday afternoon but have recently switched to Saturdays due to our location. We are always finished up within two hours time; that gives us plenty of time to eat a light meal, conversate, play games and swap cookies.

Our group usually consists of 10-15 gals and that's a really good number to start with. My house is no longer big enough for our group, especially when I try to squeeze 15 of us into my living room. So we've since started using the break room where my husband works. It's newly remodeled and complete with plenty of tables, chairs and lots of counter space.

Decide on required amount of cookies and if you'll be serving food: One of the most important aspects to the exchange, is deciding on how many dozen cookies you will require guests to bring. I've done anywhere from three to five dozen. With a large group, I find we like to go with five dozen. That way everyone gets more than two cookies of each kind.

Make sure to have each guest bring copies of their recipe to the exchange. That way everyone can take one with them, you never know, you might end up finding some new family favorites!

I have always prepared a light lunch for my guests in years past, but this year we're doing it a little different. With my working two jobs right now, I just don't have the time for all that. I have asked each guest to bring along a small appetizer to share. You decide on what you're comfortable with, have time for and can afford. And really it's not even necessary for extra food, you can always schedule your party during the afternoon in between meal times.

Create your invites-  Since we're getting close to the holidays, you'll want to make sure you get those out very soon.  Be as creative as you wish. I've written the invitations on recipe cards, printed on fun holiday paper and even have ordered these before.

I always try to send mine out about one month before the exchange. That way my guests have plenty of time to check their schedules, etc. That doesn't mean that you can't still throw together a great party in a short period of time. I always make sure to utilize Facebook as well, you can easily create an invite on there and keep track of your guests that way.

As guests begin to rsvp make sure to keep track of who's bringing which type of cookie. You'll want to inform guests if someone else has chosen the same cookie. Although I've yet to have this problem. I'm always impressed by our variety each year.

Games: Adding a little bit of fun is essential I believe! We always have fun playing 2-3 games. An ornament exchange is something we're planning to do this year, we did it a few years ago and it was simple but a good time. Have each guest bring a wrapped ornament, they don't have to spend a lot and can even make them themselves. Then you can print off a fun poem like this one to read along while you play.

Another game idea is to wrap a prize really well in a box. Like I'm saying use duct tape, wrapping paper, anything you can think of to make it hard to unwrap. Give the starting guest thick gloves and a scarf to put on along with a bowl and dice. Have the guests roll the dice, keep passing along the bowl until a guest rolls a six. Then that guest can put on the gloves and scarf and start trying unwrap the present. Meanwhile the other guests continue passing the dice, once another guest rolls a six they can take away the present. You keep that going until the present is finally opened. But remember, they have to put on the scarf and gloves before they can even start unwrapping. Whoever gets it opened wins the prize. It's a ton of fun and expect lots of laughing throughout the whole game!

The best part of all....swapping cookies: Usually after we've gotten our snacking and game playing out of the way, we end our time together with cookie swapping. I always have tables set up for them to display their platters on when they first arrive. Encourage guests to bring along extra containers to put their cookies in that they're taking with. Depending on how many dozen you make and how many guests you have, depends on how many cookies of each kind you'll take.

I always encourage my guests to bring along any extras they might have while baking. We combine those into a couple boxes and then I arrange to donate them to organizations in our community. This is a tradition that's become a favorite for us and I'm so thankful I have such giving and thoughtful friends and family. Local fire departments, police departments, homeless shelters and assisted living centers are just a few of the places we've donated to and they've always been so appreciative of the treats.

I sure hope you have a better understanding of how cookie exchanges work now. They're tons of fun but don't have to be a lot of work either. It can definitely be a big, elaborate celebration but can also be a simple gathering of a few friends. You can even easily pull this off in an office setting, maybe you'll only want to exchange cookies during lunch hour instead of adding food and games. Whatever works best for you, I hope you'll give it a try. It's one of my most favorite traditions and I'm positive it will become one of yours too!

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