As closely as I can remember, the December issue of Redbook magazine once featured a cookie exchange, festive with photographs and—if I am not mistaken—this particular cookie exchange took place in Ohio in the 1970s. I have collected the December issues of many women’s magazines for about fifty years and most are packed in boxes in the garage—I hate to part with any of them.

What I do remember best is that a group of us—coworkers in the office where I worked—held a few cookie exchanges. I hosted one in my home. A friend named Lyn also hosted one. Another year we had the cookie exchange at work . The first cookie exchange was really a flop. We spread the cookies out on platters and let everyone just help themselves to whatever they wanted. As hostess I ended up with all the burnt, crumbling cookies no one else wanted. First lesson learned: Everybody brings 5 or 6 dozen of ONE cookie. It must be a Christmas cookie and it can’t be store bought. Yes, people brought store bought cookies and made no attempt to conceal it. Then each guest receives two or three of each cookie, depending on how many people are there.

Last year I bought a Good Housekeeping cookbook titled THE GREAT CHRISTMAS COOKIE SWAP COOKBOOK.  Theoretically, cookie exchanges should work out to everybody’s satisfaction.  The problem is getting six or more women to put some real effort into making six dozen of one Christmas cookie and putting some thought and consideration into the project.  At one of the cookie exchanges my younger sister hosted, she compiled all the recipes into booklets for each of the guests. And no matter how much the hostess emphasizes that the cookies shouldn’t be ordinary run-of-the-mill cookies—they should be Christmas cookies.  Despite our emphasis on this rule, several people will still bring an ordinary chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie.  Inevitably, they will say they really don’t know how to bake Christmas cookies or they didn’t have time. there are more excuses than there are cookies.

One Christmas, my granddaughter and I made large Christmas tree cookies, frosted and decorated to look like a Christmas tree.  I baked; she decorated.  It baffles me that, years later – so many people don’t understand the concept of a cookie exchange.

I read on Google that cookie exchanges go back seventy years or more. I never heard of them at all until people I worked with started talking about cookie exchanges.

So, what to do if you are invited to attend a cookie exchange?  Put some thought into one cookie that would look festive and yummy. It doesn’t need to be very elaborate or expensive. If your resources are limited, buy a couple bags of a cookie mix; beg or borrow a few Christmas cookie cutters from a friend or neighbor. You will need two nice cookie sheets; if you line them with parchment paper, you can reuse the paper many times. If you make little star cookies, a small star will yield a lot of cookies.  You can make dozens of little stars in a very short time. Cool them on a rack and when the stars are cool, glaze them with a thin white frosting, If you have a young helper in the kitchen let your sous chef helper drizzle some colored sprinkles on the glaze before it has time to set.    Before you can sing all the verses to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, your cookies will be baked, decorated, and ready to pack in little plastic baggies. And stores like Michaels and JoAnn’s have loads of different kinds of bags in which to pack your cookies. Or spread them out on a large Christmassy platter.

Take a copy of your recipe along to give to the hostess or if you are ambitious enough. make enough copies so that each guest (and the hostess) receives a copy.

Guests are sometimes asked to bring a few extra cookies for sampling; the hostess may offer coffee or tea to go with the cookie tasting.

It isn’t rocket science, girlfriends – a cookie exchange is easy.

–Sandra Lee Smith




“The Rules of the Cookie Exchange”
by Robin Olson ©1997

  1. All cookies should be homemade, baked and main ingredient must be flour.
  2. No plain chocolate chip cookies, cookie mixes, no-bakes, meringues or bars.
  3. Please bring 6 dozen total cookies.
  4. The theme is “Christmas Cookies” (You can make any theme you like.)
  5. Arrange cookies in a basket or platter and be creative! Bring a large container to carry away your cookie, (or the hostess can provide a take away container.)
  6. Email a copy of your recipe before the party (or bring recipe to the party)
  7. Christmas (or party theme) attire is encouraged!
  8. RSVP as soon as you can and let me know what type of cookies you are planning on baking – no duplicate recipes are allowed.
  9. There’s a prize for the best Christmas outfit. (Give prizes!)
  10. If you don’t have time to bake, or have burnt your cookies, but still want to attend, you must go to a real bakery and buy 6 dozen yummy cookies.

Go here for a simple text version of the rules to copy and paste. Modify to suit your needs and include on a separate sheet, with your invitation.

(aka Cookie Exchange Rules, Cookie Swap Rules)

Robin L. Olson, Copyright 1997

Copyrights notice: “The “Rules of the Cookie Exchange” are for your personal *offline* use, feel free to change items to suit your needs and no acknowledgments are needed.

If you’re a writer, journalist, blogger or posting to message boards (ie; anything online or in print publication) using the CE rules, (in part or whole) please give credit where credit is due, and create an active link on the bottom of the same page that says:
“Some content courtesy of Robin Olson,”




  1. Good morning, girlfriend! I chuckled a bit as I read this. I have been receiving holiday cookie recipes for many years now, and I can’t tell you how irked I am when I see things like chocolate chip cookies masquerading as holiday cookies. Yes, chocolate chip cookies are yummy, but we are looking for something else for holidays, something special that we don’t whip up batches of at any time of the year.
    I will add that we never had as many types of cookies as you produce, but what we did have were special. Those included mandel kager (which for many years I thought were an heirloom recipe), snowballs (which have a number of different names), zimsterne, etc. My mother and I would also get down the wonderfully detailed antique gingerbread board and make delightful gingerbread men and women.
    Thank you for the memories, Sandy!

  2. Thank you for your comments, Jean! You have mentioned cookie recipes I am completely unfamiliar with but would like to know more about. And yes, much as I love chocolate chip cookies–which I bake all year long, I don’t think of them as a Christmas cookie! Maybe I should have provided a list of all the cookies (such as you have done) that truly can be called Christmas cookies. Are snowballs the same as Russian tea cakes and/or Mexican wedding cakes? somewhere in my files I have an L.A. Times food editor article about these wonderful cookies–which I try to make last because otherwise they won’t make it to Christmas. Do you have your mother’s gingerbread board? I take it this isn’t the same as a Springerle board – which I bought in Santa Barbara about 10 years ago. Before that I used a springerle rolling pin. (I am not making these anise cookies which take 2 days to make–because it was Bob’s favorite and I just don’t want to make them anymore for that reason. He would hoard a tin of cookies made for him for 6 months until they were hard and stale–but insist he was still eating them. ah, you see, your message evoked some other memories. Maybe some of my other readers will want to share their special Christmas memories. Thanks!

    • Yes, snowballs are also called Mexican wedding cakes, etc. They seem to be known far and wide! I will divulge a little secret for those who need their chocolate chips during holiday season: one year, I made snowballs for my daughter to take to school. Knowing that nuts could be a problem, I substituted the tiny chocolate chips. Those cookies were great! I fact, I would have trouble choosing whether to make them with nuts or with the little chocolate chips.

      Yes, I have the gingerbread board, which is a cherished possession, both because one almost never sees boards with its level of detail and because it reminds me of my mother and of a shared activity. Now that you ask, although I THINK my searches for a worthy companion for this board revealed it was a gingerbread board, I am not 100 percent sure.

      Are you speaking of the anise cookies that need to stand for the top to ?set? Or of springerle? My “second mother” used to make springerle. I dearly with I had her springerle rolling pin now to reinforce my very fond memories of her. I fear her nieces and nephews threw it out.

  3. Jean, I am going to be making Mexican wedding cakes and I think I will put the miniature chocolate chips in with them! Thanks for the suggestion. Can you send a photo of the gingerbread board? My curiosity is piqued and I want to see what it looks like. My springerle board fell behind the jelly cupboard and I haven’t been ambitious enough to remove ALL the jars of jellies, jams and pickles, juices ET AL – to get it out. Yes, springerle and anise cookies are pretty much one and the same altho one year I made them in shapes (don’t ask me how–I have no idea and would have to dig through the older of my cookie recipes in 3-ring binders. There are 8 of them and I put 2 back and brought 3 more out. Oh, (I had to think about this) I was looking for my “original” thumbprint cookie that had Karo syrup in it. I finally mixed up a batch of the thumbprint dough last night but I would like to make the ones I used to make in the 1950s. Maybe someone will know the answer to this. I think the last time I made them was in the year (70s?) when a bag of sugar skyrocketed to $5 a bag (and was five pounds back then) – and I was using recipes that could be made with other sweeteners, such as karo light or molasses (it CAN be done but you have to ignore all the cookie recipes that have to be made with sugar. Thanks for writing (hope this catches us up a bit. I owe you a letter! – Sandy)

    • I am going out to work at the library and will get to your questions later (if I don’t have a mishap on the slippery roads). I will see if my daughter will photograph the board and get it into sendable form. I forget whether I have begun to organize my Karo booklets. If so, I may be able to find an answer for you relatively quickly.

      The anise cookies that I am thinking of, which a girlfriend used to make, have a top that is a slightly different texture, which I think depends on the cookies standing for quite a while ere they are baked. They are not done with any kind of press. I have run into recipes for that, and I hope another reader will come up with the correct name.

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