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Why you should host a Christmas cookie exchange

It's the fastest (and most fun) way to fill your house with a variety of delicious baked goods.

I am a big fan of the old-fashioned cookie exchange. This festive event takes place in the weeks leading up to Christmas and involves swapping homemade Christmas cookies with friends (or coworkers) in order to gain an impressive variety of cookies with minimal work.

You see, it is far easier to spend a couple hours baking ten dozen gingerbread cookies than it is to make a dozen each of ten different kinds of cookie. And when it comes to the holidays, you simply must offer a selection, because what's the fun in eating the same thing over and over again? But few of us have the time for that! Enter the lifesaving cookie exchange.

I've been doing this for many years now and I've learned a few tricks. The first is not to bite off more than you can chew, only in the figurative sense. If you're hosting a big group of guests, reduce the number of cookies to a half-dozen that each person needs to bake, otherwise it becomes an overwhelming and unpleasant task. But if it's 6 people or less, go for a dozen. More is always better when it comes to cookies, right?

Next, have everyone decide in advance what they're going to bake, so there's minimal overlap. Disclose allergies in advance and make allowances for that. Encourage people to make freezer-friendly recipes because it's unlikely all the cookies will get eaten within the next few days… or will they?

Some controversial advice I might add is to choose your guests wisely. This is a cookie exchange, after all, not a mere social hour. Many people are poor bakers and will disappoint, which is frustrating to the people who have put more time and effort into their cookies. As the saying goes (or would, if it were actually a saying), “Your cookie exchange is only as strong as its weakest offering!”

Determine how the cookies will be packaged – or not. In the interest of saving plastic, you can ask guests to wrap their cookies in parchment, waxed paper, or little paper boxes. You can also tell them to bring cookies loose in large Tupperware containers and divide them up to eliminate all disposable packaging.

Finally, turn it into a party! Use your cookie exchange as an excuse to get together and socialize, and tell guests to bring extra cookies so you can sample them all. It's fun if guests are able to talk about their cookies, where they got the recipe, and why they like it; many have interesting stories.

It's the fastest (and most fun) way to fill your house with a variety of delicious baked goods.