How to Throw the Ultimate Cookie Exchange Party

BYOC—Bring Your Own Cookies!

Cookie Press Butter Cookies

 The Spruce Eats / Claire Cohen

A cookie exchange party is a fabulous way to celebrate the holidays, or ring in the New Year. Nothing brings us together like baked goods, and unlike a White Elephant party where the guests bring gifts, a cookie swap event asks each guest to show up with a dozen or more home-baked cookies. At the party, everyone gets to sample an assortment of cookies baked by other guests, and then leaves with a take-away container of their favorite cookies—and a whole lot of delicious cookie recipes. Host a cookie exchange for the ones you love with our complete party planning guide, including a detailed timeline.

Did You Know: December 22 is National Cookie Exchange Day!

One Month Before the Party:

Make your guest list.

While your living space will somewhat determine how many guests you can accommodate, it's a good idea to keep things modest when you're baking for a crowd. Holiday cookie swap parties typically work best with a group of eight to 10 friends. Beyond numbers, it's worthwhile thinking about who in your crowd actually enjoys baking (versus those who might feel stressed by the ask), and which will enjoy mingling together at an intimate social gathering. A smallish guest list will also make it easier to keep track of who is bringing what.

Send invitations to guests.

Holiday calendars tend to book up quickly, so try to get your invitations out at least a month ahead of the party date. Be mindful of your guests' busy schedules, and consider when most people are likely to be available. You might even do some asking around beforehand, to set yourself up for a decent party turnout. Of course, you should also consider your own schedule, and what you can reasonably pull off. For instance, you may find it less challenging to host a party on a Sunday afternoon, versus a weekday evening after work.

For the invitations themselves, it's up to you whether to go the old-fashioned route with mailed paper invitations or opt for just-as-nice digital invites. You can use an online service such as Evite to send invitations by email, or create an event on a social networking site like Facebook to send out invitations and keep track of responses. (Just make sure, if you go the social networking route, that all of your guests are present and active on the platform to avoid your invitation being missed).

Include the following details on your invitation:

  • The purpose of the party. (e.g. "You're invited to a Christmas Cookie Swap!")
  • Date and time. (If there is a set end time for the event, be sure to include that information, e.g. "Sunday, December 19th, from 2 to 5 p.m.").
  • Location (be sure to share the full address, not just "Cindy's house").
  • What people are expected to bring. You could ask guests to bring a dozen cookies, or up to three dozen, depending on your party size.
  • You'll also want to specify any ground rules for baking, such as whether cookies need to be festive-themed, and even whether they must be homemade. (While you may think the latter goes without saying, it's worth spelling out, especially if not all your guests are avid home bakers.)
  • If there are any allergens your guests should omit from their baking, state this clearly on the invitation.
  • Add a note to remind guests to bring their own serving platters and take-away tins, or let them know if you will be providing these.
  • Depending on your guest list, you can also share whether this will be a "dry" party, or if alcoholic refreshments will be served.
  • If some of your guests have children, this is also the best time to clearly state whether kids are invited along with their parents.
  • Wrap up the invitation with RSVP information, such as your email address, phone number, or a clickable link to RSVP. Include an RSVP deadline date, so you can follow up with guests. You can also ask guests to respond with information about what kind of cookies they will bring, and ask them to share their cookie recipe electronically, so it can be shared with other guests after the party.

2 Weeks Ahead:

Follow up on RSVPs.

Reach out to any guests who skipped replying and answer any questions that come in. At this point, you should have a good idea of who is bringing what. If more than one guest intends on baking the same cookie recipe, you may wish to circle back and gently suggest that someone make a change. (Just do this in a timely fashion—there is nothing worse than a frazzled guest who had to switch from shortbread to gingerbread at the last minute).

Collect cookie recipes from your guests.

One of the best things about participating in a cookie exchange is finding new recipes you love. If guests are willing to share their cookie recipes, you can either print them out for people to take home, or share them by email after the party. If your cookie swap becomes an annual tradition for your group of guests, you might even assemble the recipes into a small cookbook for your loved ones to treasure. Don't forget to include your own cookie recipe!

Shop for party supplies.

Visit your local dollar store, party supply outlet, or favorite online shop to gather the partyware and festive decorations needed for your cookie exchange. While you could use your everyday dishes, glassware, and serving vessels, you may want to opt for disposable versions of these instead. Consider also how you will display the cookies and other snacks at your party. You might want to get fancy with layered cake stands or create a long buffet with platters on your dining room table. You will also want to buy tins or plastic containers for packing up the cookies that guests will take back home. (Even if you offer to provide these, it's wise to have backup materials on hand, in case a guest forgets).

Come up with a party menu of other foods and drinks.

You want guests to take some cookies home, not eat them all during the party, so you'll want to offer other snacks for your loved ones to graze on. Set out some savory appetizers, curate a cheese board, offer finger sandwiches, put out a festive party mix, or create a veggie and dip station.

Beyond party nibbles, you will need refreshments, so plan accordingly. You can set up a coffee or tea station for guests to serve themselves, brew a party-sized thermos of hot chocolate, offer glasses of your favorite wine, set out a festive punch bowl, pour pitchers of store-bought eggnog, or serve alcoholic drinks such as mulled wine, and cocktails. (Just be sure to batch cocktails ahead, so you're not stuck behind the bar for the whole party). Always be sure to have some non-alcoholic beverages on hand for non-drinkers and kids, too.

Make a plan for kids.

If your party will include children, think about how you will keep them busy and entertained at the party. You might bake a few dozen sugar cookies, and set up a cookie decorating station for kids with royal icing and festive candy decorations. Or, buy a gingerbread house decorating kit, and ask one guest (perhaps a parent) to sit with kids and help with building. You can set up a folding table to house the kids, or seat them on stools at your kitchen counter.

1 Week Ahead:

Create cookie labels.

Your guests have told you what cookies they are bringing. Now it's time to create labels that will tell the other guests what treats are on offer. The labels should include the name of the cookies, any relevant information about allergens (e.g. "contains peanut butter" or "no eggs"), and who is the proud baker of the cookies. You can print out labels using fancy graphic templates that you find online, create hand-lettered place cards for each batch of cookies, or even use post-it notes. (Alternately, you can hand out stickers at the party, and ask your guests to label their own creations).

Make a shopping list.

Make a shopping list of all the ingredients you need for your party food and refreshments. Remember to include the ingredients you will need to bake your own cookies!

3 Days Ahead:

Go shopping.

Shop for ingredients for cookies and party food. Don't forget to buy a bag of ice for stocking up the freezer.

Create a music playlist for the party.

Have fun coming up with a music playlist that suits your theme, and will delight your guests. For a holiday cookie swap, you might decide to go with traditional Christmas carols, assemble a "Cool Yule" playlist of retro Christmas classics, or create a holly jolly playlist of holiday songs sung by modern pop artists.

1 to 2 Days Ahead:

Get baking.

Bake your cookies for the party. Once cooled, store cookies in air-tight containers to keep them fresh. Remember to also bake sugar cookies for the kids, if needed.

Cook party foods.

Cook any party foods that can be made ahead and refrigerated or stored.

Decorate.

Deck the halls with festive decor, or any decorations that suit your party theme.

Set up the buffet.

Lay out a festive tablecloth, a centerpiece, and any other decorations. Then, set out enough platters, plates, and cake stands to hold each guest's batch of cookies, and other party foods, along with the cookie labels. Set up the kids' station, if using. Set up glasses, cups, punch bowls, and/or any other drinkware. Push back furniture as needed to allow people to easily access the buffet.

The Day of the Party:

Finishing touches.

Add any finishing touches to your decorations, such as lighting the fireplace, or setting out candles for lighting when guests arrive. Check that glasses and serving platters are clean and dust-free. Empty the dishwasher before guests arrive, so it will be ready for loading at clean-up time.

Get food and refreshments ready.

Cook or reheat any party foods you will be serving, and set them on the buffet shortly before guests are expected to arrive. Set out your home-baked cookies with a label to describe them. Prepare refreshments, and set them up on the buffet.

Set up the kids' station.

Set up the kids' table (or counter area) with sugar cookies, icing, toppings, and small utensils they can use for decorating.

Place out give-away items.

Set out cookie tins or other packaging for guests to bring cookies home in. If you printed out paper copies of your guests' recipes, have them ready for people to take as they leave.

Start the music.

Turn on your playlist just as the first guests arrive, so they are greeted by music.

Enjoy the party!

The Day After the Party:

Send a thank-you email.

Send a group email to all your guests to thank them for coming to your party. If you compiled a digital master list of guests' cookie recipes, this is the time and place to share them.