By Elizabeth Scruggs
For most of us, as Christmas draws near- time becomes a precious commodity.
We are pulled this way and that- commitments, parties, school plays, church festivities- the list goes on and on. We complain that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. We want to make everything just right; to create that Norman Rockwell picture-perfect memory in our mind. The truth is though, that it is rarely the over the top party or perfectly decorated house we remember. It is the traditions that we hold dear to us.
Time will fade our memories, but the things we do remember are the traditions we hold- the people, the sounds, and the tastes that make up those faded memories. We all have that certain smell that will take us right back to Christmas as children. The excitement we felt as we got ready for whatever annual event it may have been.
Now I must begin this by saying that Christmas has long been a favorite holiday. I will confess that I go a bit heavy on the décor, and I enjoy each and every aspect of it. One might say that Christmas trees in November are a tad early? Bah Humbug to you, I say!
So as a young wife, I wanted to start traditions that would carry on through the years for my family and friends. My cousin Millie Sloan and I were talking about this one day while her children were still little. She also wanted to start some traditions for her children- something they would always remember. Our conversation turned from our family traditions, to starting something fun to do with friends. That’s how our cookie swap began. Neither of us had been to one before and we really weren’t sure how to do it, so we just made it up as we went. This was way back in the day before you could just Google something. Now if you Google “cookie exchange” there are 1.9 million results!
We invited our collective friends, and asked that they send their recipe over so we could make sure there were no duplications, and also so we could create a recipe booklet.
We declared the first Saturday morning in December “Annual Cookie Swap Day” so none of our friends would plan anything else. What we forgot was that there is also another annual event that has always been the first Friday night in December– The Birthday Girls’ Party.
Now The Birthday Girls’ Party has been going on as long as I remember- really not sure how many years, but I’d guess around 25-30. The problem with this little scheduling dilemma is that most everyone in our cookie swap also attends this party. And, assuming everyone would be type-A like Millie and myself and already have their cookies ready before Friday night was the wrong assumption.
We planned for each participant to bring one dozen cookies per person; (we had 13 people the first year) so you can do the math on that. Needless to say that first cookie swap had some tired and testy guests!
Through the years we have had confessed store-bought cookies, non-confessed store-bought cookies, and husbands who have stayed up through the night making cookies. We ask that each dozen be packaged separately, and over time, it has been quite a contest to see who has the cutest containers each year. There’s always a race to get the holiday containers purchased first when they start appearing in the stores – but the best part is the memories with friends.
Another long standing cookie swap in Lebanon is here in our neighborhood of South Fork. This year will be the 24th gathering of friends and neighbors. This swap is also always on the first Saturday in December.
My neighbor, Beulah Garrett, began the swap after moving here from California. They had a similar one there, and she thought it would be a good way for neighbors to connect. She sent invitations to everyone – and there are over 80 houses here! She asked that each person also bring a covered dish.
That first cookie swap was in 1990 and it is still going strong today! There are usually between 15-25 guests, and we gather, eat brunch, and then swap our cookies. There are two rules in this cookie swap though: no men, and NO store bought cookies.
Now, if you’re not into cookies or baking, you may want to try an ornament swap with your friends. This is another easy and fun way to get into the holiday spirit and create a fun tradition. The great thing about these types of get-togethers is that they cost very little to host since the guests are bringing the “party favors” and you can serve as little or as much food as you’d like. No matter which you choose to organize or attend, the fun of these swaps is getting together with friends and family.
When Millie and I began our cookie swap all those years ago, we just wanted something fun for our friends to look forward to- but we actually created a tradition our children will always remember.
Since then, Millie’s children have grown up, and I have had children of my own. But grown or school-aged, it doesn’t matter. They ALL look forward to the cookie swap each year! Millie’s girls and my girls even help with the baking sometimes. And of course our boys don’t mind sampling them all!
Special thanks to my neighbor and friend Mrs. Marty Hodges. She is the keeper of all things South Fork and was able to supply these photos from our past cookie swaps from her scrapbook
If you’d like to organize a cookie swap or ornament exchange for your friends, here are a few tips.
• Set your date early, so you can get on your friends’ calendars
• Send out invitations through e-mail or on Facebook or E-vite to save the cost of printing and mailing
• In a cookie swap, package your cookies separately, I recommend a half dozen cookies per person
• With a cookie swap, around 15 people is ideal. With an ornament swap, the more the merrier!
• At a cookie swap, the hostess should have many large bags on hand for guests to take their cookies home
• In an ornament swap, set a dollar amount on the ornament to exchange
Just remember to have fun, take pictures, and enjoy the season!