Thursday, October 16, 2008

Favorite Christmas Activity

Christmas Ornament or Decoration and Cookie Exchange

This Christmas, I’ve decided to try a friend’s suggestion. I’m going to host a decoration and cookie exchange. I’ll report back after the event, but here are the general guidelines.

Decoration Exchange
We all have beautiful decorations that we’ve bought and tired of, or things someone else gave us that just don’t quite fit our style. I hate looking at such items year after year, wondering why I still have them when I don’t use them. Someone else might really like them—and decorate with them; the trick is getting my unused decorations in the right hands.

The idea is to have all attendees bring such unneeded, unused items to a decoration exchange. This differs from a new ornament exchange, in which everyone purchases a new ornament for $10 or less and you play some sort of game to divvy up the ornaments among participants. No, in a decoration exchange, each person brings ornaments and decorations they no longer use, places an approximate value on an item ($1.00, $5.00, $10.00), and puts it on display on card tables topped with solid-color tablecloths. Other party-goers, who’ve been credited for the value of the items they’ve brought, get to “shop,” choosing items that fit with their décor, complete their collections, etc.

Cookie Exchange
At the same time, I’m going to incorporate a cookie exchange. Everyone will bring several dozen cookies—and several copies of the recipe—packaged into dozens of half-dozens. The hostess (me!) displays all the cookies, with samples available for tasting. Again, “shoppers” peruse the available cookies, taking home as many dozen as they brought. For example, if you bring 3 dozen decorated sugar cookies and 3 dozen lemon bars, you may take home 6 dozen of any kind.

The payoff: Each attendee gets a wonderful variety of treats but had to bake or decorate only one or two batches of cookies.

The following 10 Easy Tips for a Great Cookie Exchange came from
1. Ask each guest to bring either a dozen or half dozen cookies for each attendee, plus a dozen for the party.
2. Supply plastic storage bags or paper plates and foil just in case guests forget to bring a container for transporting their cookies home. Remind guests to store each cookie variety in separate containers until serving. Mixed cookie varieties lose their flavor and texture.
3. Request that participants bring copies of their recipe to share with others. That will avoid the necessity of mailing out copies at a later date after everyone inevitably requests them at the party!
4. Prepare a large table for everyone to set out their cookies. Spread a festive cloth on the table. Place one large basket, tray or plate on the table for each guest to place their contributions.
5. Place an extra platter on the table for the cookies that will be enjoyed during the party.
6. Play Christmas music throughout the gathering.
7. Even if you haven't finished your holiday decorating by the date of the party, be sure the party room has some festive decorations.
8. A cookie exchange can be held any time of the day, but mornings are a great time during the holiday season. By hosting it in the morning, your guests will have the remainder of the day for other holiday activities such as shopping, wrapping, their own decorating, or other parties.
9. Plan to serve refreshments that can be prepared in advance and merely reheated at the party. You shouldn't be cooking during this party. It's more important to keep the cookie exchange flowing. For a morning party, overnight egg casseroles work very well.
10. Serve at least one holiday beverage such as egg nog or hot mulled cider along with coffee, tea, juices and, of course, milk!

Favorite Christmas Activity/Memory from Growing Up

During my elementary school years, my immediate family lived in Georgia. The extended family still resided in Texas, which meant we packed up every Christmas and headed west. Certainly couldn’t expect Grandmother, all dad’s siblings and their families to come all the way to the east coast now, could we?

To that end, we had to be creative in our packing. For a couple of years running, mom and dad lugged our oversized gifts to and from Odessa. They decided that had to stop; it just didn’t make sense to fill up the already crowded car with gifts, transport them to Texas to open on Christmas, and then bring right back home again.

The next year, Dad took me to the side to show me a picture—straight from the Sears catalog—of the new dishwasher he had bought my mom for Christmas. Obviously, he couldn’t pop a bow on top and carry it with us on our trip. Instead, he cut out the picture and taped it to a square piece of Styrofoam®. My mom also got dad a big gift that year, too.

As she pre-packed, she lamented the challenge of taking the gift. Sneaky girl that I was (am?), I suggested she cut out a picture, tape it to a piece of Styrofoam®, and wrap that up instead.

The look on mom and dad’s faces as they opened their gifts at the same time—also cleverly orchestrated by yours truly: Priceless.

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