Plan the date with your guests in mind
First things first. Chose a date and time that will work for many people. Don't wait until the holidays are on top of you; remember, many people travel the week of Christmas or their schedules are full of family plans. Generally, weekends work well for the largest number of people. If you are planning a small, intimate gathering, check in with potential guests before sending out invitations.
Pick your guests carefully
A perfectly planned guest list isn't about being exclusive, it's about throwing a cookie swap party that meets the expectations of everyone attending. Before sending out invitations, think about the vision you have your cookie swap. A houseful of laughing kiddos and sharing hot chocolate with young parents? Or perhaps you would prefer meaningful conversation and a few glasses of wine? Invite your friends and their kids if that is your desire, otherwise, politely ask them to leave children at home. "The first couple of years, all our kids were young, so we combined the swap with a little party with pita pizzas and cookie decorating for the kids," shares Maille Yarwood. "In later years, we combined a little wine in with the hot chocolate and did stuff we wanted to do."
Outline the rules on the invitation
There is no one-size-fit-all approach to cookie swaps, so if you have a specific set of cookie swap rules in mind, make them very clear on the invitation. Typically, guests are expected to bring a specific number of cookies for each person attending as well as a number of cookies for munching on during the party. "At ours, everyone made six cookies for each person and brought six for the party," explains Dawn Fallik. If you aren't absolutely sure how many guests will be attending, you could also follow Bon Appetit's advice and simply ask everyone to bring six dozen cookies.
Be upfront about cookie quality expectations
"I am going to sound like such a grinch by saying this but, set the tone for the 'standard' of cookie you expect," Vanessa Chiasson cautions. "Last year I assumed I was going to a fancy cookie swap, so I labored over my super fancy short breads. Everyone else brought things they had made with their kids that looked like a disaster on a plate or really basic stuff like chocolate chip cookies. Now, I will eat any cookie—and I did!—but none of the cookies were usable for a 'nice' occasion. I thought the entire point of a cookie exchange is that you sweat over one recipe and gain many other fancy recipes in exchange. I was wrong!"
When in doubt, provide recipes
If you aren't so sure how to communicate your expectations for your cookie swap or you are worried everyone will show up with the same cookies, consider providing recipes or asking your guests to sign up for the type of cookies they would like to bring to avoid duplicates. "We organized an office [cookie exchange] and chose a selection of recipes that covered all abilities and food preferences," shared Nicola Miller. "That ensured we didn't end up with plates and plates of the same cookie." Here are some of the best Christmas cookie recipes you can try.
Ask about food allergies
Holiday treats are often full of nuts, eggs, and dairy, three of the most common allergens. Check in with each guest long before the party and make sure everyone knows to omit an ingredient if someone has an allergy. (Here are surprising signs you might be lactose intolerant.)
Instead of asking your guests to bring containers of their own, head over to a party supply store and stock up on fancy cardboard boxes and decorative ribbon or twine. It is better to provide multiple smaller boxes than one large one so guests can keep their cookies looking beautiful on the trip home, according to Bon Appetit.
Decorate your home and table
Prepare your table for dozens and dozens of cookies with a beautiful tablecloth and a holiday runner. Make your party feel festive with candles and seasonal greenery or flowers. Be ready for the cookies by scattering empty platters all over the table. Make sure each platter has a tong and that there are napkins and plates nearby. Before you get started, be sure you avoid these holiday decorating mistakes.
Provide snacks and drinks
A cookie exchange may be all about the sweets, but don't forget to provide accompanying refreshments. Stick with savory snacks since your guests will be showing up with the best of best when it comes to holiday cookies. Stock up on a few bottles of wine or flavored liqueur for coffee mix-ins for the adults. If kids will be attending, make a batch of hot chocolate (and don't forget the marshmallows).