5 Steps to Hosting a Holiday Cookie Exchange

Do you have time to bake 10 different holiday treats? Not many people have that kind of time these days. A Holiday Cookie Exchange is the perfect excuse to invite your friends and family over to help you with your holiday baking!

The concept of a cookie exchange is simple. Every guest brings a different treat to trade. You show up with 11 dozen identical cookies, candy, etc. (10 to trade and 1 to share at the party) and leave with 10 dozen assorted treats to share, eat, or give as gifts!

Just follow these five simple steps to host a relaxing and festive party.

1. Make a plan 

  • Be realistic with the guest list. This isn’t the type of party you want to invite the whole neighborhood to. :-) A good recommendation is to invite no more than 8-12 guests because each attendee is asked to bring a dozen holiday treats for every guest attending, plus an additional dozen for sampling during the party. Twenty dozen treats is a big ask.
  • Choose a date that is close enough to the holidays so the cookies will last, but not so late that you get caught up in the last-minute holiday rush.
  • Decide what types of drinks to serve (e.g., coffee, tea, hot chocolate, mulled cider, eggnog,) and if you want to provide food in addition to the treats, or if you want to ask people to bring a savory snack along with their holiday treats.
  • Determine if you want the guests to bring each treat already portioned (one dozen per bag/container) or if you want to provide inexpensive plastic containers or bakery boxes for each guest to fill up at the party. For a more environmentally-friendly option, ask each guest to bring his or her own plastic containers or cookie tins.
  • Download your Party Planning and Party Supply Checklists to make sure you don’t forget something along the way.

2. Share the details 

  • Send invitations at least ten days in advance to allow people to plan. No one wants to hear "You need to bake ten dozen cookies." at the last minute.
  • Be sure to include a list of clear instructions such as RSVP date, number of cookies to bring, dress code (maybe you want to have a holiday pajama party?!?), and special requests (e.g., parking instructions, carpooling requests). Let guests know if you have any “ground rules” such as home-baked goods only, strictly cookies, or anything goes, cookies, bars, candies, or brownies are welcome. 
  • Use SignUp.com to organize everything in one easy-to-use service. Participants sign up on their smartphone or computer, receive automatic reminders about the party, and reveal the name of the treat they are bringing. There shouldn’t be any duplicate recipes. Remember, the object of the party is that everyone takes home ten (or however many) sets of one-dozen holiday goodies.

3. Pre Party Prep

  • Decorations don’t have to be fancy and expensive. Make a banner using snowflakes cut from copier paper and strung together with yarn or string. Fill a vase with Christmas balls or pine branches. Make a small ring of pine cuttings to go around a pillar candle. Stop by your local Target’s Dollar Spot for adorable inexpensive holiday decorations.
  • Make sure to have enough platters for each treat that is to be shared during the party (plus tongs). Your local dollar store is a great resource for inexpensive decorative platters. You may even want to give each guest a platter loaded with their treats to take home at the end of the party.
  • To prepare for the party, set up either two smaller tables or one large table with enough platters to hold each guest's contributions. If space is tight mix in a few different height cake stands to help fit everything on the table. Don’t forget tablecloths, paper goods, extra plastic wrap and resealable bags, etc. Make sure you have plenty of places for people to sit down. Borrow some folding chairs, if needed, and place some TV trays and trash cans strategically around the area. Set up a drink station away from the cookie stations to avoid a logjam of people in one area. Borrow some card tables from friends if you don’t have enough counter space.
  • Don’t forget the ambiance! Create a playlist and ask guests to add their suggestions or go to streaming sites like Pandora or Spotify and choose a curated station that matches your musical style.

4. Label it

SignUp Dish Labels

5. Don’t Forget the Kids 

If you decide to include children in the party, create a few kid-friendly stations to keep them entertained while to adults mingle.

  • Set up a cookie-decorating station--a child-sized table stocked with undecorated sugar or gingerbread cookies in festive shapes and various icings, sprinkles, and candies. Put out parchment paper with each child’s name so they can keep track of their cookies. Get some craft paper to tape down under and around the table to keep the mess to a minimum.
  • On another table provide washable crayons and markers, print out some cute holiday themed coloring pages, or cover the table with some craft paper for the kid to decorate to their heart's content. Just skip the glitter, unless you want to keep sweeping it up until June.
  • Arrange an area with a tv and some pillows on the floor for kids (and adults) to watch favorite holiday movies, and provide popcorn, movie candy, and juice boxes.
  • After the party, all of your guests will have a wonderful selection of holiday treats to eat or to use as gifts for their own family and friends. Download these free printable cookie tags and have them available for your guests to take home. Plus your guests will get a cute keepsake bundle of recipes to ensure they can make their favorite treat again next year. And just maybe, you will start a fun, time-saving, cookie exchange tradition that will create lifelong memories.
SignUp Cookie Tags