Before you start thinking that it’s way too early to start thinking about the annual holiday cookie exchange, remember that everything about 2020 seems to come with a new degree of difficulty. So even though you might not have put up Halloween decorations yet, this year’s holiday cookie swap is going to take a little more advanced planning than usual.
As a single, working mom, I’m all about keeping things chic but simple at the same time. Usually, as parties go, a cookie exchange has more structure than most. If guests don’t follow the cookie exchange “rules,” someone might not get their fair share of the delicious baked-goods bounty!
Having a solid plan together as early as possible can not only help to relieve pre-party stress for the hosts, but it can also allow guests to bake when it works in their individual schedules, leading to a more enjoyable event for everyone. Here are some ideas for easy ways to throw the traditional holiday cookie exchange albeit in a non-traditional manner, even in the times of Covid-19.
First of all, just what exactly is a cookie exchange party? At its most basic, you bake one kind of cookies and give each of the other guests a half-dozen or so to take home, and each guest does the same. The result is that everyone only has to bake one kind of cookie but goes home with dozens of different ones!
But -- is it safe to share food in the age of the coronavirus? The short answer is yes. Covid-19 primarily spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets at close range, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes within six feet of someone else. According to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of the virus through food or food containers. From that perspective, if the people you invite already feel comfortable ordering takeout and delivery, they might also feel comfortable accepting homemade food. Nevertheless, some people may be uneasy with sharing food at the moment, despite the minimal risks. A good, helpful friend is one that respects those wishes.
There are steps to take any time you are preparing food — not only to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but also to practice good food safety protocols. The person cooking should always wash their hands before preparing the food and often during cooking if necessary.
Exchanging your tasty treats is probably the riskiest part of sharing food during the coronavirus. Since we are social distancing, it is recommended not to hand or deliver the cookies directly to anyone.
Actually, whether or not it is safe to host a cookie exchange depends a lot on the current metrics of community spread in your local area. If community spread and rate of infection is very, very low, I’d still recommend keeping groups small and only inviting those who you know have been compliant with recommendations from health officials when it comes to face masks, physical distancing, and avoiding large public gatherings.
For your cookie exchange party, space out seating, encourage everyone to wear a face mask when they’re not eating, and keep the invite list as small as possible. If the weather allows, open some windows to improve ventilation. And definitely ask anyone who isn’t feeling well to please stay home.
Surface transmission -- touching a common object that is contaminated, and then touching your mouth, nose, or face -- is considered less risky, but still should be considered for activities that have a lot of movement from shared surfaces to faces. For example, any food you serve at your gathering should be individually “packaged” to avoid everyone touching the same serving utensil or, even worse, touching food others are supposed to eat by taking cookies off of a platter with one’s hands.
To lessen the amount of possible exposure to the infection, you could speed things up and have a “drive-by” cookie exchange of sorts. You could ask everyone to bake at home and pre-package their cookies to reduce common touchpoints; then only gather while masked to swap and say hello.
Since the virus seems to spread more easily indoors, think about hosting the exchange outside. I’m envisioning an outdoor cookie exchange with hot chocolate around a firepit. That sounds super fun to me!
If the transmission rates in your community are on the rise, the positivity rate is high, or you’re unsure of how cautious your potential guests have been, consider a virtual cookie baking day. Invite all bakers to sign onto a specific video chat location to bake and decorate in their respective kitchens; then share them via “contactless” doorstep delivery.
I’m sure our upcoming holidays are going to feel strange this year with a world-wide pandemic occurring, but with some creativity and flexibility, you and your loved ones can still make precious memories that will last a lifetime. Someday, during some holiday, you’ll hear someone say, “Remember the pandemic year?!? That year we had to come up with new ways to celebrate without infecting each other. It was challenging, but it was fun too! Our cookie exchange was the best…”
We have several cookie recipes on the website that would be perfect for a swap! This is just one of my favorites: https://bit.ly/34pMsVD. These Bellisari's Blistered Fig Linzer Cookies are delicious and look absolutely beautiful and festive for any celebration!