How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange

Three women celebrate with a holiday cookie exchange.
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Who knew that saving money could be so delicious?

Holidays are often associated with certain foods, and both Christmas and Hanukkah bring to mind visions of cookies and other sweet treats. However, the holidays also bring a lot of time and money pressures.

Why not consider a holiday cookie exchange? It could be a fun, inexpensive and simple way to celebrate the season.

What Exactly Is a Cookie Exchange?

For a cookie swap, a handful of people organize their holiday baking ahead of time and exchange their treats — and the recipes for them.

Each participant makes a different kind of cookie or dessert.

There are a few directions you can go from there. You could host a cookie exchange party, where all of the participants come and fill up their boxes. Or, you can box up each dozen and make cookie deliveries. It’s up to each group to set its cookie swap rules.

How Does a Holiday Cookie Exchange Save Money and Time?

Cookie recipes often share basic ingredients — eggs, flour, salt and baking soda. Then, depending on the recipe, there are spices and nuts and chocolate chips, candied fruits and butterscotch, peppermint and sour cream and a myriad of ingredients to purchase. Christmas cookies often have higher-end or harder-to-find ingredients, since they can be gifts.

Participating in a cookie swap limits how many ingredients you have to buy, and can help you stay within your holiday budget. Getting a bigger amount of the same ingredients likely won’t cost as much as getting a variety of items.

For example, the cost of ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies for the home baker comes out to about $2.40 a dozen. If you also want to make gingerbread cookies, the different ingredients will cost you about $2.90 per dozen. Butter cookies, if you use good butter, will cost $3.50 a dozen. These recipes don’t have any special ingredients in them.

Recipes with special ingredients like pecans, mint, food coloring, crème fraiche, pumpkin, etc. will cost more than plain sugar cookies.

Making a single type of cookie also saves prep and clean up time, though the baking time might be the same.

How to Set Up a Holiday Cookie Exchange

Ready to set up your first cookie exchange? Here are our step-by-step instructions:

Poll Your Friends 

You can start by polling your baking-friendly friends to see who would like to participate. While you’re at it, find out if your participants have any specific dietary restrictions or time-based needs.

Set the Rules and a Cookie Swap Date 

Settling on a time frame may be the most difficult part of this process. Cookies can go stale, and not everything freezes well. Setting a cookie exchange date should happen at the beginning of the process.

You’ll also need to set the most important guideline for the cookie swap: How many cookies should each person make?

That’s totally up to you. Some people only make a couple dozen cookies for the swap, and others make a dozen per person. (So if there are eight people participating, then each person makes eight dozen cookies.)

Either way, make sure the expectations are set up front.

Pick Your Bakers 

Now it’s time to invite friends who want to participate in a cookie swap. When considering your participants, make sure you have enough people in case someone drops out. But remember, too many bakers can be an issue, too. A cookie exchange can get unwieldy if you have more than 10 people.

If you are going to send invitations, you can find and use some great ones online. Canva has a ton of cookie swap party invitations to use. A helpful hint is to have the cookie exchange rules on one side of the invitation.

Make the Call: Are You Hosting a Party or Just Swapping?

One of the biggest decisions to make is whether this will be a full-blown social occasion or a utilitarian drop-off/pick-up event. This might affect who you invite to join the cookie swap, and when and how you do it.

Most people turn a cookie swap into a party. There are lots of opportunities to spend time with family over the holiday season. It’s nice to have a chance to party with friends too.

There are a few steps you can take right at the beginning of the planning process to make sure things go smoothly, whichever way you choose to exchange cookies.

Hosting a Party? Nail Down the Nitty Gritty

Most of the time, people have cookie exchange parties. As they should! Life can be hard and hanging out with friends makes things better.

If you’re going the party route, create a guest list, think about party supplies, send invitations and plan some light snacks.

From there, you’ll have a few more decisions you’ll have to make. For instance:

  • Do you want guests to bring their own containers or pool money for cookie boxes? (Thrift stores almost always have cheap tins.)
  • Would you like folks to also bring snacks and drinks?
  • How many guests can a guest bring?
  • Do you want to have a cookie tasting as part of the party? (If so, you may want to ask people bring a few extra cookies.).

Don’t Forget to Get the Recipes

Yes, having delicious cookies for the season is a huge draw of cookie exchanges. But the recipes themselves are just as valuable.

Everyone should give you their cookie recipe ahead of time, or should be instructed to provide recipe cards to each of the participants. (Plus a few extras if you’re hosting a party.)

Keep in Touch 

What is the easiest way to communicate with everyone? You could start an email chain or text group. You also may want to set up a page on a social networking site, so everyone can interact and coordinate. Facebook has hundreds of cookie swaps and events, so make sure everyone has the right one.

How to Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange Party 

So you’ve decided on a party — great! Just like with any party, when you’re hosting a cookie swap, you want to make a fun space with plenty of food, drinks and fun.

Here are some tips to set up your cookie exchange party.

Make a Menu

The host can serve some savory appetizers or finger sandwiches to offset the sweetness of the cookies. (Side note: Wouldn’t it be fun to have an appetizer swap?)

It’s not necessary, though. If you want to keep your expenses low, stick to the cookies.

Create a Cookie Exchange Wonderland

If you are hosting a Christmas cookie exchange, you can go all out with cookie decor. Is that a gingerbread family on your front lawn? Are those real Christmas cookies hanging on your tree? You can even make Christmas cards printed with cookie recipes.

Set a Festive (and Functional) Cookie Exchange Table

Clear off the dining room table, it’s time to use that holiday tablecloth!

Then, set up as many cake stands as you can. (Feel free to ask your guests to bring cake stands if you need more than you have.) If there aren’t enough cake stands, use serving platters. You’ll need to make sure there’s space in front of each for recipe cards.

Looking for something more interactive? Set up a cookie decorating station with some plain sugar cookies.

Get Your Guests to Contribute 

The person hosting the cookie exchange party will be supplying party food, their own cookies, festive decor and some cookie platters. But guests should bring stuff too.

Ask guests to bring additional cake stands, cookie platters, their own cookie containers to take home and copies of their cookie recipes. As a backup, you may want to have some ziplock bags on hand, but cookie tins and boxes are nicer.

Be flexible in case a guest forgets to bring any of these items.

Set the Cookie Swap Rules

You can have guests fill up their cookie tins at any point during the party, but you have to clearly tell them when that will be and how many cookies they can take.

Once you’ve set the stage, have fun and indulge your sweet tooth.

Make It a Tradition

Cookie swap parties can turn into an annual tradition. If you give a lot of Christmas cookies to friends and family, it is a fantastic way to save a little money (unless you’re the host and decide to go it alone, to be honest), and spend time with people you care about.

The Penny Hoarder contributor JoEllen Schilke writes on lifestyle and culture topics. She is the former owner of a coffee shop in St. Petersburg, Florida, and has hosted an arts show on WMNF community radio for nearly 30 years.