Throw a Sweet Cookie-Exchange Party

From Better Homes & Gardens

Cookie exchanges might be the best kind of party to attend around the holidays: sure, they take a little preparation, but even after the party's over, you can take some of that spirit home and keep enjoying it in the days to follow. If you're hosting this year's swap, make sure it's a sweet success with these tips from the pros.

Party prep: Box 'em up.

Stir up your favorite Santa-worthy recipes and invite friends, coworkers and family members to do the same. All finished cookies deserve a cute container. Be sure to have festive boxes, tins and ribbons on hand so guests can package up their cookies in style. Use simple ribbon, tissue paper, bows and tags to glitz them up.

Party prep: Festive invites.

Send invitations three to four weeks in advance, before everyone's schedules fill up. On the invitations, be sure to include how many cookies to bring (ask for homemade), specifics on packaging the cookies and any other special features you plan for the cookie exchange.

Party prep: Come prepared.

Ask each attendee to bring at least three dozen cookies to make sure everyone has enough cookies to tote home. If you plan to serve some at the party, ask guests to bring an extra dozen or two for a special sampling buffet.

Party prep: Create a pretty presentation.

Instead of purchasing a pricey set of seasonal dinnerware, mix and match plates and dishes you already own for an affordable (and adorable) way to display your cookies. An assortment of different sizes, styles and colors are all welcome, just be sure to keep things feeling festive!

Party prep: Make a holiday playlist.

Create a playlist so cheery, you and your party crowd will be jingle-bell rockin' before you know it. A mix of jazzy classics from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin pair festively with current pop artists' holiday albums. Have guests send any favorite holiday song requests along with their RSVPs.

Cookie decorating: Make it part of the event.

Another fun cookie exchange tradition is to bake some of the cookies right at the party. If you don't have enough cookie cutters for everyone, precut stencils are easily traceable. If you prefer, prepare one big, showstopping tree cookie and let guests put on the finishing touches. Be sure to set out frostings, candies and other ingredients they can use to decorate.

Cookie decorating: Make swirled frosting.

Take unfrosted holiday cookies from plain to pretty in a few easy steps. To achieve a fancy-looking swirled look, first frost the cookie with white icing. Before it dries, use a spoon or knife to drizzle green or red icing on top. Swirl a clean toothpick through the white and colored icing to create a swirled frosting effect.

Cookie decorating: Add color to sugar-rolled cookies.

Turn plain-Jane cookies into adorably dressed treats in three easy steps. First, roll the dough into a cylinder, then roll cookie dough in colorful sugar. Slice the roll into cookie-size pieces and bake for a sweet and simple Christmas cookie.

Party activity: Have a best Christmas cookie contest.

After attendees sample each cookie, let them vote for their favorites. Dress up a simple bulletin board with festive fabric and pinned-on envelopes for an easy voting station.

Party activity: Build gingerbread houses.

Keep kids entertained with building pretty gingerbread houses. To make things simple, buy gingerbread pieces at your local crafts or grocery store, then organize all the candy decorations in small bowls.

Party favor: Give away ribbon-wrapped peppermints.

Wrap peppermint sticks in ribbons and bows, then send them along with guests for a sweet way to say thanks. Look for candy canes in the candy aisle of your local grocery store.

Host/hostess gift: DIY cookie mix.

For an oh-so-sweet holiday hostess gift, layer the ingredients of your favorite Christmas cookie in a quart jar and fasten the lid, using a festive ribbon for decoration. Include the recipe and simple baking instructions on a card, and tie on with thread.

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