Chocolate, Charity & Cheer: Tips for Hosting a Christmas Cookie Swap

I thought it would be hard to top last year’s cookie swap, but last weekend’s event surpassed all previous. It really was the first party of the season and put us all in the holiday mood for the three week countdown to Christmas.

As I washed the serving platters and tucked dozens of shortbread, biscotti and gingerbread into various tins to be frozen, I couldn’t help but think a cookie swap is the ideal holiday party to host.

There is minimal prep, aside from your baking, of course; you can get by with a quick house tidy, brewing a big pot of coffee and mixing together a punch. At a cookie swap there are no expectations for a big meal or buffet spread, and the event can be condensed into a few hours if you’re the type who likes to be in bed with a book by 10PM.

ALL photos by Angela Chin of Tim Chin Photography

On the other hand, if you jump at any chance to entertain, the cookie swap can be expanded into a full-fledged Christmas party, as mine was. We sipped hot mulled cider (recipe coming on Wednesday!) and homemade eggnog while we sampled at least twelve varieties of cookies.

After the swap, we pulled up chairs around our long wooden table and I served up mini Tourtiere hand pies, shrimp cocktail and vegetable crudite to counteract the sugar rush. Small ramekins of French Onion Soup followed and for a few minutes there was hardly a word spoken around the table as we spooned it up.

I could try and blame Pinterest for encouraging me to pull out a few stops for my party, but I really just love to feed people. Still, Pinterest helped me come up with a few super simple decorating and menu ideas, which you can check out on my party board.

So what goes into a cookie swap and how do you make it great? Here’s the breakdown.

The Invites

You’ll want to get your invitations out early so guests can save the date. Invite double the amount of guests that you feel you can accommodate and don’t stress about over-crowding; this is the busiest time of the year and not everyone will be able to attend. My ideal number for a swap? Ten. I invite 25.

Invite guests to prepare 8-10 dozen of their favorite or ‘most requested’ cookie to swap, plus an extra dozen for sampling. Specify that the cookies be well suited for traveling and freezing, and well-labeled if they contain nuts.

Invite guests via a private Facebook group and encourage them to share what variety of cookie they are making on the event Wall. This also serves as a good place to answer questions and keep track of the every-changing attendee list.

The Prep

Bake cookies! Prepare a tried-and-true recipe that has proven to be popular among both young and old. TIP: In order to have my cookies be as fresh as possible, I prepare my cookie dough few weeks in advance and bake them off the morning of the swap.

Good examples include:

Prepare a simple party menu. Salty snacks, a seasonal punch ( I love a simple non-alcoholic blend of POM juice, cranberry ginger-ale, and sliced clementines), a bowl of fruit. and a pot of coffee.

Cut rectangles out of stiff paper for labeling the cookies. Locate a stack of napkins. Stock up on candles for ambiance. Go to town on Christmas decorations, if that’s your thing.

The Charity Opportunity

A cookie swap offers the ideal opportunity to give back. One can’t help but feel blessed when greeted with a cookie-laden table and it’s only fitting for a swap to have a charitable side to it.

At the very minimum, ask guests to bring a non-perishable item, which you can collect and donate to your local food bank. Other ideas include donating a dozen of each cookie to a family in need, or even just putting out a donation jar.

For my recent event, I had items donated for a raffle and sold tickets to my guests. We raised $250 for Cookies for Kids Cancer, funds which are matched by GLAD in the month of December. So our little group of 12 was able to send $500 to help with pediatric cancer research. Pretty cool.

This fundraising event was in partnership with Bloggers without Borders who also hosted a successful cookie swap in New York City last weekend.

A huge thanks to David’s Tea, Le Creuset, and Oxo for supplying our main raffle items!

The Event

Clear off your dining room table and add any leafs, if you have them. Decorate it with a simple, seasonal centerpiece and place all your cake stands and platters around the table.

As guests arrive, invite them to transfer their cookies to your platters. This frees up their tins or Tupperware to hold the cookies they will be selecting from the table. Tip: Now is a perfect time to snap a photo or ten!

As each contributor brought extra cookies for tasting, you should have ample baking to serve up to your guests, along with a mug of tea or coffee. After you’ve had time to catch up on your visiting and sample the cookies, it’s time to swap.

Start by everyone taking six or so of each variety, rotating around the table so everyone has a chance to reach all the cookies. Continue until all the cookies are gone. Guests take home as many cookies as they contributed.

It doesn’t take very long before there are just crumbs remaining.

Another year, another cookie swap, another group of girls with a delightful assortment of hand baked goods stashed away for the coming weeks of entertaining.

What kind of Christmas cookies are you baking this year?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Fabulous ideas! We have our first cookie swap this coming week. Ek! Punch bowl and platters are two things i’ll need to borrow.

    Do you have Christmas music playing?

    I’m going to make snickerdoodles (sp?) and perhaps peanut butter blossom cookies. Pintrest sure has given so many great ideas for a visual person like me.

    Keep saying to myself though…..keep it simple……keep it simple. I’m excited!

  2. Great ideas. Sometimes someone isn’t able to bake cookies because of health reasons etc., but they still want to be part of the fun. Allowed to do that, she/he could bring something else to add to the festivities, whether drinks etc. Participants don’t need to include that person in the cookie exchange, but due to the season, many people might choose to do that.

  3. Love this post, Aimee! A charity cookie swap is the perfect way to celebrate the holidays!

  4. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    Your photos look wonderful, Aimee! Yesterday’s cookie swap in NYC was quite fun. Wish I could have come to yours too though – french onion soup, YUM!

    • Thanks! My friend Angela took all the photos, thank goodness. Didn’t she do an amazing job?

      NYC swap looked like fun. Can’t wait to hear a few recaps.

  5. I’m actually already done baking this season because I had a party yesterday. We had sugar cookies, chewy gingersnaps, chocolate fudge, a peanut-chocolate candy, and brown sugar cupcakes with Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting. I saved a few containers for home, and am sending the remaining leftovers to my significant other’s office. I might make one more batch of cookies right before Christmas to take with us traveling, as I’m sure by then, these cookies will be gone. Next year, I want to host a swap party; it was a lot of work to make 5 different treats this year!

  6. Since a cookie swap and the thought of so many dozens of cookies can seem extremely daunting, we host a cookie party each year. Everyone brings a batch of their favorite cookies – homemade, store bought, whatever – we sip coffee/punch/hot chocolate (a cookie party essential) and chat around cookies, cookies, and more cookies! We are hosting our fifth annual cookie party this year! The only thing that’s required is that recipes are brought for swapping.

    My christmas cookie requirement, now that I have found an excellent recipe, is Gingerbread Men. But I also make sugar cookies and grasshoppers!

  7. Hear hear to making sure you have salty snacks at a cookie swap. Gotta balance out the copious amounts of sugar!

    (And I love that your ideal number for a party is ten but you invite 25. Hee hee.)

  8. Thanks for the useful tips! I’ll have to think about hosting a cookie swap next year 🙂

  9. i think this year i’m just going to make sugar cookies…always a classic!

  10. Our family does a cookie swap each year. My parents, my brother’s family and ours all make two kinds of cookies. The favorites are usually requested by the kids. My sister-in-law makes the cut-outs and I make the frosting. The whole family participates in decorating cookies. We have everything from “plate pretty” to “creatively strange”. Certain family members are turning the snowman or stocking cut outs into very creative light bulbs, Star wars characters, etc. We share a great soup/salad/cheese/bread meal and wrap gifts for the people we have “adopted” to provide gifts and trimmings. The whole family affair is a highlight to the Christmas season.

  11. At the request of my three year old, I’ve made a batch of chocolate chip and have some in the freezer. I’ll probably make lime meltaways soon (like today), as my stomach really is persuading me to. 🙂

    Your party looked like a blast!

  12. A friend of mine used to host a cookie exchange, but she hasn’t done it lately. Maybe I’ll have to try some of your tips and start one of my own.

    This is my favorite cookie exchange cookie for the last couple of years (and even when there isn’t an exchange!) :

  13. What a spread! That’s one delicious way to throw a party!

  14. What a lovely party, Aimée! I hosted a cookie exchange this past weekend as well, although it was a much smaller affair. I love your idea of contributing to a charity! Definitely something I will be planning for the next one!

  15. My parents go to a MASSIVE swap year after year. One of those events where you only see the people once/year, but you don’t dare miss it. The main requirement: THE MEN MAKE THE COOKIES! They have a theme each year with prizes and donate 1 dozen of everyone’s cookies to the local food bank. We just enjoy eating the results when we visit over the holidays. =)

  16. COOKIES COOKIES COOKIES….oh!i really love to eat cookies…and wow too may cookies in pictures lol…hope to been there so that i can eat much cookies…thanks for sharing..

  17. I’m thinking of trying a swap with books instead of cookies – just to stay healthy during the season. I’ll let you know how it goes . . .

  18. Love the suggestions here! I will be attending a swap next week, would love to plan one for myself next year!

  19. We have a group of friends that not only swap but have a cookie-baking day once in December. Those who are busy with other commitments bake ahead of time, but most of us spend all day baking, then we swap and everyone goes home with a collection at the end of the evening. Great fun.

  20. I love this! Perfect idea for a get together, and especially with the charity idea tied in. Every year my friends and I try to host a party during the holidays to help the world hunger projects, and I think this is a perfect idea for next year. Thanks for the easy step-by-step guide. It is like Real Simple, but better 🙂

  21. I already made the Gingerbread Cookies. Any recommendations for what I should try next?

  22. What a great party, I had seen this done in the states but figured it would be too hard to convince my non-baking friends to produce even 1 dozen cookies. Your post has given me the push to try to round up some volunteers next year. Happy Holidays, Marlyn

  23. Aimee–
    Those Pecan Maple Biscuits look dee-lish! Recipe?

    I need more friends who bake, rather than fill their baking obligations by a trip to the grocery store bakery. For now, I’ll exchange cookies vicariously through you. 🙂


  24. Thanks for the inspiration. Getting ready for our cookie swap on tues. first ever!! Just wondering how many doz the triple choc cookie recipe makes. Just put it in the fridge. Thanks!!

    • Oh have fun! I’m hosting a cookie swap today too. =)

      If I recall, it makes about 4-5 dozen cookies, more if you make them smaller. I make them pretty big.

      Happy baking!

  25. My Mom and I have been hosting a cookie exchange for several years now and it’s always one of the highlights of the Christmas season for me. We do it on a weeknight, as there are so many other things going on during the weekends in the month of December. We ask guests to bring 6 dozen of their favorite homemade cookies to exchange and several copies of the recipe to share.
    We do an easy dinner, re-gift gift exchange (we provide white elephant-type gifts for everyone!), and then the cookie exchange and try to keep the event about two hours. It’s a great time for neighbors to re-connect and try to make it as low-stress as possible. If anyone prefers not to participate in the cookie exchange part, they’re welcome to come for dinner and the company!
    I love the idea of having attendees bring a donation to contribute too–we’ll have to add that for next year!

  26. just wondering, with the chocolate mayan sparklers. could i freeze that dough ahead? would i wait to roll it in the topping until i bake? thanks!

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