Christmas Cookies and a Sprinkling of Ingenuity 

Christmas cookies are a longstanding Western tradition. Many of us have holiday memories that include special treats and surprises. My mom always found time to bake cookies and always had enough to share with neighbors and friends.

Looking back, I marvel how she did it. One year, when I was about five, we decorated the entire tree with sugar cookies! I'll never forget Mom teaching me how to gently pierce holes in them so we could thread yarn through and hang them.

What better a year to bring back the tradition of homemade Christmas cookies than 2001? Some of you might think it'll be difficult to find the time. Others may think that making an assortment for your holiday table is even more daunting. But fear not and read on, The Complete Kitchen has a plan for you!

The answer is a Christmas Cookie Party. Some years ago, a friend called me and asked if I would be interested in joining her "Christmas Cookie Party." A person in the group had moved out of town and they were looking for someone new to round out the team. It was a new concept to me, so Peggy explained.

On a Saturday in December, six people get together and bring enough ingredients to make two batches of cookies, each about three dozen in quantity. Everyone comes early in the morning, the hostess has a big pot of coffee waiting and something akin to a production line begins. 

One person mixes, another rolls dough, the next one tends the oven, someone else takes charge of the cooling racks, another decorates and so on. The cookies get made at lightning speed and there's lots of time for catching up on what's been happening in everyone's lives.

When all the baking is done, the friends divide up the cookies. Everyone leaves with six dozen cookies, but instead of having only two varieties, they have a smaller quantity of 12 types of cookies. Great concept, isn't it?

Here are a few tips from The Complete Kitchen that will help you get the most out of your Christmas cookie party:

Agree to what kinds of cookies everyone will make ahead of time. It avoids having duplicate recipes on baking day. Sugar cookies are great, but you don't want three batches of them.

Think back to your childhood and remember what Grandma used to make, or thumb through a cookbook with lots of cookie recipes. I've found Martha Stewart's Christmas Entertaining, Decorating, and Giving a great inspiration. We always try to include: sugar cookies; nut cookies, such as almond crescents or nut balls; jewel cookies, or ones that have a jam filling; candy, such as coconut balls, peanut brittle or fudge; press cookies; something that can be dipped in chocolate or decorated; and, finally, something that you might not even associate with Christmas, such as biscotti. 

- Meet at the house with the best equipped kitchen. Does someone in the group have a double wall oven? Who has the most counter and table space? 

- If you can, pool your kitchen gadgets such as a heavy duty mixer, stacking cooling racks and extra cookie sheets. 

- Don't forget to bring re-sealable containers, such as Tupperware, or cookie tins that you can line with aluminum foil to take your treasure home in. This will make the transportation easy. You can transfer the treats just before you're ready to serve them to that beautiful platter.

- Obviously the group doesn't need to be six in size - the more the merrier and the bigger the variety that everyone will have. However many you invite, be sure you don't overcrowd the kitchen.

- Plan an easy lunch. Have a pizza or sandwiches delivered, or have a no muss, no fuss dish like hot dogs. Pick something that won't require a lot of time and has a quick clean up.

If the group doesn't want to spend an entire Saturday, have people make one recipe ahead of time and bring the ingredients for the second to make at the party. 

Making two batches at home with the help of your kids or favorite dancing partner can be fun too. The party group can assemble for a coffee, or your favorite beverage, while you trade cookies... and stories.

However you decide to work out the logistics, it's a great way to get a variety of fresh home-baked cookies on your holiday table. And this year, as people reach out to one another for comfort and friendship as we deal with these turbulent times, it's a great way to start a new tradition - and one with a little old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity, too.