Are you the small, pale one or the fancy decorated one? Did your grandmother teach you that recipe or did you rip it out of last month’s Bon Appetit? How many did you make? Two dozen? Or more?
These are the questions of the cookie swap, which baptizes each participant according to their chosen dessert. The presentation, the taste: all should be perfect. That way, as attendees choose which treats to put in their boxes and which recipes to collect for posterity, they select your cookies. Everyone else will bring their favourite sugar cookies or some slightly-brittle gingersnaps. But not you. You understand that the invitation to the party impels you to show off your dessert alter ego.
To help their guests manifest their sweet side, the host needs the correct cocktail of personalities, food, and festivities. A table laid thick with leaden renditions of Pillsbury slice-and-bake cookies might please the local hockey team, but ignores the swap’s traditional values. To construct the proper festive atmosphere the organizer must classify their friends according to baking abilities. Pillsbury-aficionados may be sorted under the headings: ‘would be offended if they didn’t get an invitation,’ ‘big sweet tooth, will help with clean up’ and ‘stale’. Skilled bakers can be sorted according to level of expertise and preference for chocolate or vanilla. Carefully arranging the invitees creates a balanced party ecosystem and ensures the cookie swap inspires seasonal cheer.
Upon receiving the invitation, the attendees must decide which cookie adequately reflects their personality, or how they wish to be perceived. Although treats are no longer exchanged to increase fat stores for the long winter ahead, this history remains pardons immoderate sugar consumption during the holidays. Thus, guests are obliged to bake cookies that cite the winter festivities. Ditch your Aunt Helene’s secret lemon bars and forget those early grey shortbread. Grab the cinnamon, cloves, and molasses and scream ‘Christmas!’ Sugar cookies, especially when decorated in red and green sprinkles, easily integrate into the holiday ambiance. Use chocolate only with an unreasonable amount of powdered sugar and butter. Ideally, you’d choose the cookie that your mother and grandmother made every Christmas to portray yourself as a tradition-oriented family person (earn extra points when you say your great-great-grandmother to the nth brought the recipe with her from the old country). Forget your creative streak, the old-way rules at this party.
Accordingly, tradition must be evident to the guests as soon as they enter your home to evoke comfort, hospitality, and ritual. Whether you prefer baking cookies or fresh spruce, a festive aroma should be simulated with either an abundance of candles or a clever simmer pot. Upon removing their snow-dusted pea coat, the attendee chooses from the following beverages: eggnog, mulled wine, hot apple cider, or hot chocolate with a peppermint stirring stick. Sipping on the season’s good cheer primes the palate for cookies. A seasonally decorated serving plate is ideal, but alternating red and green ones will suffice. Next to their beautifully messy pile of buttery gems, the guest should write their name on a card in the guise of the type of cookie they made. Secure your Tupperware: now the swapping game begins.
But you will never leave your cookie. No matter how many Russian teacakes, peppermint slices, struffoli or rum balls the attendee stuffs in their container, they are linked to the dessert they brought. Guests may remark on certain specimens during the party, but it becomes evident when eating them at home: you don’t choose the cookie, you choose the idea the baker conjured. Once the type of cookie is identified, its baker becomes the next level of identification. If there are multiple types of cookie, the baker trumps the type. You debate whether you prefer ‘Paul’s frosted sugar cookie’ or ‘Jenny’s sprinkle sugar cookie’. The cookie becomes the expression of the individual. Taste as you please, but remember the allegiances your social circle has already established. After all, Christmas is about friends and family, whatever type of cookie they may be.