Friday, December 2, 2011

The Christmas Cookie Exchange Fiasco

I'm sure cookie exchanges have been around since time began. Well, maybe not quite that long, but the idea had to come from somewhere, so I've always assumed it was a tradition passed down through history and ended up in our country via the Pilgrims. Who's to say it didn't happen like that?

I vaguely recall my mom making batch after batch of Christmas cookies that we three girls were not allowed to eat. Actually, I think the word "spanking" might have been involved should any come up missing. Most of the time, there was little temptation. Mom made cookies all the time. Just not such pretty ones. But when she brought out the big metal iron with the snowflake on a long steel handle, we knew Swedish rosettes were in the making.

One time a year those crisp, dainty cookies appeared at our house and that was at Christmas. Mom dipped the metal snowflake in the golden batter, then into the hot oil of a frying pan and once the snowflake fell off of the iron, it floated around till it turned a lovely gold. Mom set the delicate cookie on old dish clothes to drain (paper towels were far in the future) and when they were still warm, she sifted powdered sugar over them.

Mom always made a few extra for us, but most of them were eaten by the women at our church who belonged to the Ladies Aid. I remember it well. Off she went with boxes of beautiful cookies and in a few hours, she came home with boxes of different cookies, none of which looked as good as those mom had taken away from our drooling mouths. Young as I was, I never saw the fairness in the trade. Mom always took her best offerings. No one was ever able to convince me that the others had done the same.

So it was that I never participated in a cookie exchange once I was married and had a family. Why would I take my cookies made with fresh eggs and real butter and every premium ingredient I could afford and trade them for cookies the size of small rocks and hard as bullets even if they were drizzled with a powdered sugar glaze and sprinkled with red crystals? Why exchange my Austrian thumbprint cookies rolled in chopped pecans and filled with raspberry jam for a peanut butter cookie that had been made last week then freshly dusted with powdered sugar to improve its appearance?

I was the only hold out I knew. I gracefully refused every cookie exchange I was invited to for years on end. But then it happened. The ladies group at my church decided to hold a cookie exchange. We were only about thirty strong, and since I knew each of them well and knew them all to be great cooks, I decided to attend.

I arrived just a bit late and to my amazement, tables lined two of the walls in our meeting room and laid out in glorious fashion, was the lovliest assortment of Christmas cookies I'd ever seen. They were all sizes and all colors and nearly every one was decorated with sprinkles or coconut or silver dragees or colored sugar crystals. I was so glad I'd come. I'd exchange my three dozen cookies for an assortment of everything from Italian nut balls to gingerbread men.

The cookies sat showcased while we had our business meeting. Then we had our usual devotional and prayer time. Then the ladies who worked on quilts went to their part of the room and those who knitted went to another section, and those who stuffed fabric dolls adjourned to their place in the room. We were all busy doing our tasks, for the things we made were put on the shelves of a small adjoining room where visiting missionaries could go and freely pick up anything they needed.

The quilt I was helping with was nearly finished and I was anxious to get it off the frame so the woman who did the edging could take the quilt home and complete it. Quilts were generally the first things to go once a missionary came to town and I knew there were none left in the supply room. Thus it was that after our leader announced it was time for the cookie exchange, that I stayed behind to finish up the part I had been working on.

I was alone at the quilt frame. A couple of friends reminded me that it was time for the exchange. I thanked them and continued working. I wasn't worried. I'd brought 36 cookies and I'd go home with the 36 that were left. I didn't particularly care which ones they were. No more than ten minutes had passed before I made my way over to the tables that had once been laden with wonderful cookies. What I saw sent my heart plummeting. To all intents, the cookies were gone.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. Church ladies can't count. At least those ladies couldn't. A bite here to see if the cookie was good, a bite there for the same reason, then load up with the whole ones. What was left to me were broken bits and pieces, crumbs of gingerbread men, a scattering of displaced sprinkles, and one or two whole cookies made of peanut butter and freshly dusted with powdered sugar to make them look new.

I brought my sad assortment home and showed them to Jim. He asked had I eaten most of them while driving home. I explained that this is what I was left with because I'd been about ten minutes late to the exchange, even though it had taken place in the same room where I was finishing up quilting the area I'd been working on and the ladies knew I hadn't taken any cookies because they kept hollaring at me to get over there.

Jim seldom reacted to anything in a negative manner, but that day his eyes grew big as he looked at me and said, "You took all those pretty cookies you made to the exchange and traded them for this? Wouldn't it have been better just to let us eat the ones you made instead of trading them off for crumbs?" The kids were more vocal. Almost scolding me for giving away their favorite cookies and getting next to nothing in return.

I nodded in agreement. I'd been duped, I told them. Lulled into a false sense of security. I'd seen it happen with mom's cookies at the Ladies Aid and now it had happened to me. Had I given those lovely cookies to the poor, I'd have been glad. Had I handed them to someone who was homeless, I would have been filled with joy. Instead, I was downhearted. Feeling betrayed by my pals. Yet one principle of life had become clear in my mind that day. I've never forgotten the lesson learned. It is drilled into my being. When it's time for cookies, get at the beginning of the line. Don't lag behind to do any good deed.

Because those who snooze, lose.

Blessings Always,


Wishing you a crunchy, chocolate-filled, sugar dusted, coconut covered Christmas.


  1. Lesson learned, Sandy! This story made me smile and feel awful for you at the same time. When the boys were young, my husband would have some of their friends over and he'd bake brownies and cookies with them then divide them up so all the children went home with a tin of cookies. They all loved doing that and it was all given away so everyone got the same. No snoozing or losing!

  2. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way! Great story. I remember that my mom used to bake cookies for some kind of cookie exchange when I was a kid too. I don't think it was for a church function, though.

  3. How sad for you! Lesson learned should be - put the needs of others before yourself! ALWAYS lag behind to do a good deed, but especially if no one notices! It's not about pride, but humility! It's not about you, but showing Jesus to others. Oh, poor Sandy, the list goes on and on, but not in the direction you are thinking!