How to Host a Cookie Swap, the Sweetest of All Holiday Parties

Make this fun pre-holiday party the best it can be. 

three types of cookies and coffee
Photo: Mikkel Vang

If there's a dessert that speaks most to the holiday season, it's cookies. That's why cookie swaps are so popular this time of the year. Not only is sharing and swapping cookies with friends and family fun, but you get to leave with a selection of treats to enjoy and new recipes to try. Instead of getting invited to a cookie swap this season, consider hosting your own.

Hosting a cookie swap can be as simple as inviting a few friends over for snacks, drinks, and some cookie exchanging—and tasting. Our guide includes everything you need to make your party run smoothly, from sending out paper invitations and preparing appetizers to coming up with theme ideas and festive décor. But keep in mind that the end result—you and your favorite people slowing down and celebrating together—is what really makes your swap a sweet success.

Make Your Guest List

Experienced cookie swap hosts generally cap their guest list at around eight people. That's enough for a satisfying variety of treats to enjoy at the party as well as a manageable amount for everyone to take home at the end of the night. Most cookie swap hosts ask guests to bring one dozen cookies for each person at the party, but scaling down would be fine, too. Some hosts invite only their most passionate baker friends to create a table of intricate, Martha-level cookies; others include friends who might just whip up something from a boxed mix at the last minute. In short, the rules are entirely up to you.

peppermint cookies
Lennart Weibull

Decide on a Theme

While "cookie swap" is an appropriate theme for your party, you can put a personal spin on your swap by asking guests to bring treats that all have something in common. That might mean asking everyone to use the same main ingredient (chocolate or peppermint), bake cookies in the same color (red or green only!), or give everyone a more general guideline to follow—family favorites, quick-and-simple, or easy to freeze.

Send Invitations

Emails and texts don't have the same festive feel as a paper invitation, which cuts through holiday calendar clutter to earn your party a spot on your friends' full schedules. Download editable files online or buy pre-printed invites with your party details. Make sure you give guests plenty of notice so they have time to plan and prepare their cookies.

Set the Menu

Some cookie swap hosts assign each guest a specific cookie (sugar, iced, or butter, for example) or category (brownies, bars, no-bake)—which prevents accidental duplicates; others set no guidelines at all, assuming the surprise is part of the fun. You can compromise by asking guests to sign up for a certain treat, which gives you more control over the menu, but still offers them the freedom to choose something they enjoy making. (Remember to let participants know about any dietary restrictions, too, so they can choose recipes that work for everyone.)

christmas party cookies counter

Dress Up the Table

A cookie swap doesn't usually include a sit-down meal, so you won't need formal seating arrangements. But you do need a long table—or several smaller ones—with enough space to display all the cookies. Create a cohesive look by showing off the treats on coordinating white dishes, or create a cozy, vintage atmosphere by using mismatched holiday serving platters and cake stands. Include place cards with the name of each treat and the baker who brought it (you can print these in advance or leave them blank for guests to fill in as they arrive).

Offer Pretty Packaging

Holiday treat bags, inexpensive tins, pretty paper sleeves, and ribbons or bows add a seasonal touch to your party—and are cheerful alternatives to the plastic zipper bags and Tupperware containers most hosts send their guests home with. Order a set of custom stickers that include the date of your party and the name of each cookie to keep guests organized.


Prepare Snacks and Drinks

Balance out the sweets with a selection of light bites, like a cheese and charcuterie board, a platter of fresh fruit and cheese, or some Antipasto Skewers and other hors d'oeuvres. Offer favorite winter beverages—think cider, cocoa, and hot toddies—or more celebratory drinks, like eggnog or Juniper Champagne Cocktails.

Inspire Creativity

While your guests are swapping, snacking, and sipping, a few low-key activities can keep the conversation flowing. Set up a station with plain sugar cookies and provide icing and embellishments for your friends to DIY some decorated goodies, or create a craft station where guests can make festive ornaments.

Share the Recipes

Before the party, ask each guest to send you the recipe for the cookie they plan to make—assuming it's not a family secret!—so you can provide copies for each guest. Combine all the recipes into a book for each attendee to take as they leave, leave a stack of individual sheets so guests can take only the ones they want to recreate, or print each recipe on its own card and collect them on binder rings to help your loved ones start a cookie recipe collection they can add to every year.

bell shaped red pink and white glitter coated cookies

Start a Tradition

Your cookie swap is sure to be a huge success and something you'll be hosting every holiday—or consider setting up a hosting schedule with your friends. And remember that cookies are beloved year round—who says you can only have a cookie swap once a year? Treat everyone to their favorite holiday cookies in the summer with a Christmas in July swap; share spring-themed desserts in April; or break out your best Halloween-themed goodies in October.

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