How to Host a Holiday Cookie Swap

How to do a holiday cookie swap
Getty Images / Tom Grill

Cookie Swap Basics

Hosting a cookie swap is a fun way to alleviate some time spent baking for the holidays. Let's face it, buying ingredients and making one type of cookie in bulk is much easier than trying to bake several kinds on your own. 

The point of a cookie exchange is to ask all guests to bring several dozen of their favorite homemade cookies to share. Ideally, each of you will go home with multiple cookie varieties.

Some parties encourage packaging your freshly baked goods into gifts right at the party.

There are three essential parts of the cookie exchange to consider—the rules, the sampling station and the packaging station. This guide will walk you through everything you need to make your next cookie swap a success. 

Checklist for Cookie Exchange

The following is a list of common items cookie swap hosts provide for the event. You might consider asking your guests to help with any of the following.  

  1. Guestlist—Invite 5 to 10 people who enjoy or are willing to bake dozens of cookies from scratch.

  2. Invitations—Create a custom invitation with clear directions for the cookie swap.

  3. Station Supplies—Gather enough platters for the sampling station. Include place cards and a festive tablecloth. Purchase twine, ribbon and gift tags for the packaging station.

  4. Bakery Boxes—Make sure to stock enough bakery boxes or cookie tins for each participant to take home between half a dozen to a dozen of each attendee’s cookies.

  1. Drinks—Make sure to brew enough coffee and tea for all guests. Consider mixing a special punch for the occasion.

  2. Savory food—Offer guests something salty like an egg bake to eat before cookie sampling.

Next, review this timeline for more advice and tips to make your cookie exchange a success. 

One Month Before

  1. Set the rules. Determine clear instructions for your guests to follow well in advance. Figure out how many cookies each guest should bring based on the size of the party. Each guest should be able to go home with between a half dozen to a dozen of every cookie type. There should be enough cookies for sampling as well. For instance, if you are inviting four guests, ask each person to bring six dozen cookies. This amount would give each attendee one dozen of each variety, and there will still be one dozen left for the sampling station. Here are some more sample rules to consider:
    • Attendees are asked to bring at least six dozen cookies to share. 
    • Recipes should be submitted to the host and approved no later than two weeks before the party. This will ensure there is a good selection of cookies for the swap.
    • Cookies must be homemade and fresh for the party.
    • Accompany your cookies with recipe cards for each guest.
    • Bring a serving platter and storage bins for cookies. 
  1. Send out invitations. Invite between 5 to 10 people. You could invite more, but then you should consider asking each guest to bake more cookies. Ask attendees to bring recipe cards, boxes and wrapping if you want to keep costs down. The most important aspect of the invitation is to include clear directions and rules that are easy to follow.

Two to Three Weeks Before

  1. Determine the cookie everyone will bake. Research some cookie recipes and pick one that you know you'll enjoy making and eating. Now is also the time to remind guests to RSVP and submit their recipes. If too many people provide the same recipe idea, you can help them pick a different recipe, so there is more variety. 
  2. Order bakery boxes and supplies. Do your research to find a good deal on small bakery boxes or tins for packaging cookies into gifts. You'll also want to purchase bakery tissue paper, gift tags, ribbon or twine and some extra platters if needed. Make sure you have a general idea of how you want your sampling and packaging station to look. Be sure you have tables, tablecloths and all party decor picked out at this point. 
  3. Create cookie place cards. Once all cookie recipes are approved and finalized, create some place cards for the sampling station. Cards should include the type of cookie and the contributor. 

    Two Days Before

    1. Bake your cookies. This step is pretty self-explanatory. You may also want to reach out to all your guests with a gentle reminder to see if that they have everything they need to bake their cookies. 
    2. Grocery shop for remaining food and drinks. Don't forget to pick up everything you need for any recipes or drinks you've committed to making. 

    Day Before the Party

    1. Create a cookie display table. This table should be large enough to hold one platter for every guest. If you're short on space, use cake stands to build up different levels so you can fit more trays. Set out place cards, so attendees know where to put out one dozen of their cookies for sampling. Have a section close to or underneath the display table for totes with the remaining cookies that can be divided up after sampling. 
    1. Set up a wrapping table. This is where guests will divide out their cookies into pre-made packages. You can either provide one large tin per guest for all their cookies, or you can offer multiple small boxes so guests can start making cookie sampling gifts for their loved ones. If your guests will be creating gifts, have twine, ribbon, gift tags, tissue paper and anything else you might need to create a nicely wrapped package. 
    2. Prep as much food and drink as possible. The more you can do for the cookie swap in advance, the more you'll be able to enjoy the day of the party. Make punch ahead and store it in the fridge. Prepare any savory food and set aside. If you froze cookies, thaw them now. 

    Day of the Party

    1. Brew coffee and put out drinks. Wait until shortly before the guests arrive for this step.
    2. Warm up food and finalize decor. You'll likely want to eat any savory food shortly after guests arrive, so make sure it's warmed and ready to go. Set out any last minute decorations and make sure your cookies are on display and stored by the sampling station. Your cookies will serve as the first example of how guests should unload their cookies. 
    3. Welcome guests and explain the party. Make sure you have a plan for how guests will navigate the party when they arrive. There should be a natural flow from the entrance, to the display table, to the packaging table. Once your party drops off their cookies, you can gather everyone in a central spot to discuss how the party will progress. 
    4. Collect recipes. Make sure you take one of each recipe card from your guests. After the party, create a master list to email to all guests, so they have all the recipes in case they forgot to pick one up.