The Cookie Exchange
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What Is a Cookie Exchange?
Many hands make light work,” as the old saying goes. That is the essence of an old-fashioned cookie exchange.
To host a cookie exchange, you invite a group of friends, relatives, and neighbors over to your house to exchange homemade cookies. Every person brings about six dozen of one type of cookie. The cookies are laid out on the dining room table and exchanged. The result is that everyone goes home with an assortment of six dozen different types of cookies. The recipes are also swapped, so that if you take home a new cookie that you really like, you will be able to make it yourself. The cookie party can be given at any time during the year; however, most cookie exchange parties occur in December.
There are as many ways and reasons to host a cookie exchange party as there are people who give them. The party could be hosted as a one-time-only event, every couple of years, or annually. The majority who host a party for the first time are looking forward to making it an annual tradition for their friends and family. We all lead such busy lives, and a cookie exchange is a great time to reconnect with people you may not see on a regular basis.
Even though most cookie exchanges are given during the holidays, which is by far busiest season of year, it’s still the best time of year to do this party. On top of “normal life,” you then have the added workload of making “Christmas magic” by rushing around, trying to find parking spaces at busy malls, waiting in lines, buying and wrapping presents. You’re tired, stressed, your feet hurt, and you’re wondering where the meaning is in all of this hustle-bustle.
A Moment in Time
The Marion Daily Star, Marion, Ohio—September 13, 1895
At the ladies’ exchange at the Free Will Baptist church there will be found home-made bread, brown bread, cakes, pies, fried cakes, cookies, ginger bread, veal loaf, fresh eggs, dressed chickens, etc. A liberal patronage is earnestly desired.
I might even feel guilty asking you to add one more thing to your long to-do list. However, the cookie party gives back. It rejuvenates, and gives meaning and inspiration to the holidays, embodying the qualities that we all love best—friendship, food, and festivity. There is something about baking that forces you to slow down, and sharing cookies, which is edible proof of time spent for the benefit of others, is healing and giving at the same time. While you are baking, you also know that soon, very soon, you’ll be coming over to my house for a party and we are going to have a lot of fun!
The bonus for the guests, especially for those who describe themselves as non-bakers, is that after they leave the party they’ll go home with a yummy assortment of six dozen homemade cookies. Store-bought cookies just don’t compare. Your non-baking friends will now have home-baked cookies for their families, or they can give out little plates of home-baked love as gifts to their friends, relatives, and associates. Once you’ve started the tradition of hosting cookie exchanges, the holidays won’t seem the same without them!
Each person who goes to a cookie exchange party has her own reasons for attending. For my group of girls, who mostly identify themselves as non-bakers, coming to my cookie party is an opportunity to get a selection of different types of homemade cookies. Some people who attend don’t care as much about the cookies, but wouldn’t want to miss the party for anything! However, they know their ticket to get in the front door is a tray of home-baked cookies, so they dutifully bake.
A Moment in Time
Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, New Hampshire—December 30, 1916
The Willing Workers connected with the Government Street M.E. church are making plans for a cookie party in the near future.
Story time is always fun, especially when you have a group of non-baking friends “who killed themselves” to bake cookies to the best of their abilities and get to the party. Do you have a group of “non-bakers”? Here’s a party tip: Print out my baking tips and include them with the basic invitation and the Rules of the Cookie Exchange (see www.cookie-exchange.com/baking_tips.html).
While cookies are the focal point of the party, the guests are the real reason to host a party. A cookie exchange enables you to bring together people of various backgrounds, ages, and interests; they all have something in common on that one day. Everyone involved has had to spend the same amount of time, energy, money, and thought to participate. They all brought home-baked cookies, and all have stories to share of the baking adventures (or misadventures!) that they had before they got to my door.
A Moment in Time
Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, Wisconsin—January 5, 1925
ST. MARK’S LADIES AID
The Ladies Aid Society of St. Mark’s church will meet Wednesday afternoon in the church parlors. The officers will be the hostesses and it will be a cookie party. All members and friends are invited to attend.
At weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations, the focus of the party is on the one or two people being honored. At a cookie exchange, every single person is highlighted and the focus is on each guest for a few minutes as they talk about their cookies. Everyone is a star! New friendships are forged, and after time they, too, become old friends who enjoy seeing each other, year after year, at the annual cookie exchange.
The History of the Cookie Exchange
In the earliest days of documentation, over one hundred years ago, they were referred to as “cookie parties.” By the 1930s, they began to be called “cookie exchanges.” The term “cookie swap” wasn’t popularized until the 1950s.
Historically, cookie exchange parties have been a ladies-only event. Exchanges were hosted by friends, relatives, neighbors, social groups, clubs, office co-workers, teams, schools, and churches. That’s currently changing, as other types of cookie exchange parties are emerging and becoming commonplace now: families with children included, men only, men and women, and cookie exchange parties used as a fund-raising tool. I’m often asked, “How old is the cookie exchange?” and “Who invented it?”
Throughout the millennia, sharing food has been the most elemental form of communication. If one were to encounter a group of semi-hostile strangers who spoke a different language, nothing says “I come in peace” more than outstretched arms containing platters of food. If you’re going to nourish someone, it’s likely that your intentions are peaceful.
A Moment in Time
Syracuse, New York—January 20, 1936
HOME BUREAU UNITS
HOLD 11 MEETINGS
COOKIE EXCHANGE WILL BE
FEATURE OF ERWIN GROUP
Eleven meetings of Syracuse Home Bureau units are to be conducted this week and will deal with methods of remodeling hats and setting the luncheon table. The schedule follows:
Monday—Lincoln Unit meets at the home of Mrs. H. K. Seeley, 300 Hickok Avenue, at 2 o’clock to study planning and setting the luncheon table. Erwin Unit meets at the home of Mrs. I. B. Stafford, 242 Kensington Place, at 2 o’clock for a cookie exchange meeting. South Side Unit meets at the South Side Library at 1:30 for a lesson on remodeling hats given by Miss Maude Loftus.
The humble roots of the American Thanksgiving come to mind. The Pilgrims felt indebted to the Native Americans for teaching them how to live off the land. To show their appreciation, the Pilgrims invited the Indians over for a three-day celebration, and foods were shared from the harvest. Many parties are celebrated and forgotten. But this feast wasn’t; it launched a tradition celebrated by millions annually. What does that have to do with a cookie exchange? It’s completely natural to ask strangers to your feast: PEOPLE + FOOD = SHARING.
We’ll never know who first thought of the cookie-only exchange. However, the tradition of sharing foods has been going on for thousands of years, and will continue, for survival and celebration, for thousands more. Robin L. Olson, aka “The Cookie Exchange Queen”, started her website, cookie-exchange.com, more than 10 years ago and has built it into the category go-to site, with more than 1.5 million unique visitors each year. She’s been featured in a variety of media, from the cover of Country Woman magazine to the New York Times and the Food Network. She lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland.