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A Sweet Exchange

A New Generation Adopts an Old Tradition



Photos Karen Morneau

The holiday Cookie Exchange is a sweet tradition that has been around for generations. But how did it start? A bit of sleuthing turned up an early reference in the social column of a 1936 issue of The Syracuse Herald. Nestled between announcements geared toward female readers about lessons on “ … setting the luncheon table,” “… remodeling hats,” and “ … overcoming fatigue” is an item notifying interested parties that Mrs. I. B. Stafford will host a Cookie Exchange meeting for the women’s “Erwin Home Unit,” (apparently a group of women dedicated to perfecting the “womanly” art of gracious entertaining and running a tight ship at home.)

For the uninitiated, those invited to a Cookie Exchange typically bring between two- and four dozen homemade cookies to the event, and after a (delicious!) tasting go home with one to three dozen different types of cookies baked by the other attendees. Local Wilton resident Karen Morneau, a professional photographer and mother to Julia (15), Connor (12), and Jake (8), has both attended and also hosted this particular event for years. “Up until three years ago it was always my group of adult friends having an annual Cookie Exchange. But we were all getting to the point of not wanting to do it anymore. We looked at each other and said, ‘Why don’t we start a tradition with our daughters and let them take over?’”

So last year Karen encouraged her older daughter Julia to give it a whirl. “We both love to bake and we thought hosting a Cookie Exchange would be a great way to celebrate the holiday with friends while also taking a break after the busy first part of the school year,” says Karen.

Karen is always busy so her go-to recipe is a type of meringue called Forgotten Cookies. “You put them in the oven at night, turn it off, and when you wake up in the morning, they’re done,” she says with a smile.

Julia wanted to put her personal stamp on her first Cookie Exchange, so she encouraged guests to let their imaginations run wild and bring any kind of sweet treat, not just cookies. “I made Snow Globe cupcakes. Another girl constructed a really beautiful Christmas tree out of cookies. Someone else made a six-layer bar with unique layers. Everyone tried to be as creative as possible and to make their baked goods look cool.”

Fifteen girls attended Julia’s party, and it was a big hit. Guests first enjoyed a Christmas-themed buffet that included a glazed baked ham and lots of sides. Afterwards came the cookie tasting and voting. “We had a number of categories including Best-Tasting Cookie, Best-Looking Cookie, and Best Overall Taste and Look,” says Julia. The evening was topped off with a White Elephant Gift Exchange, a variation on the popular Yankee Swap.

“It’s really a lot of fun,” says Julia. “It gives me the opportunity to invite a many of my friends that I don’t get to see very much during the year, and also to invite other girls who go to different schools. We get dressed up and have a chance to socialize at a happy time of year.”

Christmas is a cherished time in the Morneau household. “Some of my best childhood memories are from the holidays,” says Karen, “and I wanted it to be the same for my children. We love putting our tree up early and decorating every room in the house. And even though I’ve retired the tradition of hosting my own Cookie Exchange, I’m really happy that Julia is carrying on the custom with her friends.” 

Julia is in the planning stages for this year’s Cookie Exchange and is adding a new element. “We want to help a family in need. I’m asking everyone who is attending to bring a wrapped gift we can donate.”

So if you have a great recipe for sinful snickerdoodles, killer chocolate chip cookies, or out-of-this-world Key lime pie sandwich cookies, why not start your own Cookie Exchange? And while you’re at it, consider making this sweet tradition even sweeter by following Julia Morneau’s generous lead and adding an element of charitable giving to your event. 


TASTY WORK Julia Morneau challenges her guests to let their imaginations run wild when baking treats to bring to her annual holiday Cookie Exchange.Morneau made Snow Globe cupcakes.

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