A Glimpse Inside One of Martha's Famous Holiday Cookie Parties

holiday sugar cookie varieties
Photo: Johnny Miller

Come December, Martha's Bedford farm is everyone's favorite home for the holidays. Trees light up each corner, cups brim with her famous eggnog, and cookies are stacked as high as the crowd's spirits.

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Martha, Kevin Sharkey and photographer Douglas Friedman
Johnny Miller

On a brisk winter afternoon a few Decembers ago, Martha's Bedford farm buzzed with warm laughter, delicious drinks, and enough cookies to feed an entire production of The Nutcracker. "I've been throwing holiday parties since about 1980, when I was living in Westport, Connecticut, and writing my first book, Entertaining," says Martha. "It's a great way to see a lot of people in a friendly atmosphere." She loves to make the classics that always please a crowd, and throw in some new surprises.

Martha, with her close friends Kevin Sharkey and photographer Douglas Friedman, is all set to fête.

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Silver Bells

silver decorated Christmas tree in Martha's summer house library
Johnny Miller

Her guest list has grown to more than a hundred attendees, who are all invited to stroll the property. "We decorate three homes on the farm, which makes it easier to accommodate everyone," she explains. Revelers greet old friends and meet new ones, and enjoy a different scene in each setting.

A silver tree shimmers in the corner of the summer house, amidst Martha's library of books.

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Cookies Galore

holiday sugar cookie varieties
Johnny Miller

To bake enough cookies for her open house, Martha cranks up her professional sheeter, a recent Christmas present to herself that flattens dough balls evenly and saves hours of hand-rolling. Martha plans out the afternoon and the menu so that she, too, can relax and catch up with guests.

"We always decorate sugar cookies in different colors," she says. "This time, we did white, gold, and silver." They vary in size as well—some are as small as coins; others measure seven inches across.

And after the last merrymaker has left, Martha steps into the tenant house for a bite of an extra-large sugar confection—a little ritual you could call the icing on the cookie.

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Pine Cones and More

cookie table with bears and tabletop tree
Johnny Miller

In the winter-house dining room, bristly bears check out a tree-stump display of sugar cookies decorated like gifts; pastel-hued pinecone and ball ornaments fill the tabletop tinsel tree.

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All Together

Martha's nieces and nephews
Johnny Miller

Many guests start at the main house to fill their glasses with punch or Martha's epic eggnog. Little ones and big ones alike look forward to scampering down the stone path to the tenant house. Others start at the summer house, where they're greeted by soft music (and sometimes live caroling!).

Before they sample some cookies, Martha's nieces and nephews pose with their families.

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Fun For All

collection of holiday-themed cookies
Johnny Miller

The tenant house is cookie-palooza for the underage crowd. "We go all out for the children, creating landscapes with dozens of varieties," says Martha. In addition to towers of colorful cookies, the house is decorated with faux woodland creatures and whimsical trees.

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Sugary Wreaths

pistachio wreath sugar cookies
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Sugar-cookie wreaths are sprinkled with ground Sicilian pistachios and silver and gold chocolate pearls.

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Sugar Snowflakes

small pastel snowflake sugar cookies
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Martha's "elves" dipped snowflake sugar cookies in royal icing and topped them with pastel sanding sugar.

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Comfort and Joy

books editor Susanne Ruppert and husband
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Books editor Susanne Ruppert warms up by the outdoor fire with her husband, David Caplan.

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buttery spritz cookies on elegant glass stand
Johnny Miller

Buttery spritz cookies sit pretty on a glass cake stand.

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Strike a Pose

Martha and publicist, Susan Magrino
Johnny Miller

Martha and her longtime pal and publicist, Susan Magrino, pose in their holiday best.

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Gingerbread Trees

frosted tree gingerbread cookies
Johnny Miller

Royal icing and green sanding sugar cover gingerbread trees.

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Darcy & Co.

Darcy Miller with family
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Martha Stewart Weddings editor at large Darcy Miller with her daughter Ella, niece Emma, and sister Jenny Symonds.

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Uncle Kevin

Kevin Sharkey with Martha's granddaughter
Johnny Miller

Kevin chats with Martha's granddaughter, Jude, in the kitchen.

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Cookie Tree

table of holiday cookie varieties in fornt of decorated tree
Johnny Miller

"When I was growing up, we made hundreds of cookies with my mother every year," Martha says. "Many, like the Noël Nut Balls, still make appearances, and disappear fast."

Stacks of sweets, like Alexis's brown-sugar chocolate-chip cookies, four-ingredient sablés Bretons, those bourbon-spiked Noel Nut Balls, raspberry-and apricot-jam-filled pecan linzers, and chocolate-dipped gingerbread reindeer, are gathered around a tree bedecked in new and vintage ornaments.

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Party Central

Martha's Bedford neighbors
Johnny Miller

Martha's Bedford neighbors, Dolores and Merril Halpern and Muffin Dowdle, join in the festivities.

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Pretty in Pink

metallic pink decorated Christmas tree
Johnny Miller

A metallic pink tree casts a warm glow in the winter house: "I love to put it in a formal room, because it glistens so beautifully," Martha says.

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Friends Gather Round

former video executive producer Lisa Wagner with husband and son
Johnny Miller

Former video executive producer and longtime friend Lisa Wagner enjoys the fresh air with her husband and son.

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Berry Wonder

pink pepprcorn wreath cookies
Johnny Miller

Crushed freeze-dried raspberries and pink peppercorns are sprinkled on sugar-cookie wreaths dunked in royal icing.

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Mushroom Meringues

mushroom meringues and spritz cookies
Johnny Miller

Mushroom meringues, spritz cookies, and powdered-sugar-dusted linzers mix well.

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More Guests Arrive

Living editor Elizabeth Graves with husband and son
Johnny Miller

Former Living editor-in-chief Elizabeth Graves arrives with husband Jeff Young and son James.

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Gingerbread Creatures

gingerbread woodland foxes, raccoons, and reindeer
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Gingerbread foxes and raccoons are embellished with tinted royal icing and nonpareils.

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Sharing with Truman

Kevin Sharkey with Martha's grandson
Johnny Miller

Kevin shares a bite with Martha's grandson, Truman.

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Gingerbread Galore

gingerbread village scene
Johnny Miller

"I love gingerbread houses," says Martha. "I've done replicas of cathedrals and my homes." For this village display, longtime Martha collaborator Jason Schreiber constructed charming abodes, complete with silver-foil roofing, royal-icing supports and shutters, rounded boxwoods, and a clock tower.

Food styling by Jessie Damuck and Molly Wenk; prop styling by Tanya Graff.

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