Cookie exchange parties are an iconic part of the holiday season for many American families, but like many things in 2020, the tradition will be a bit different this year due to the pandemic. Find out what health experts think about cookie exchanges this year, plus how to host a safe one and what you might try instead.

By Karla Walsh
Updated December 08, 2020
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Americans eat a whopping 7 billion cookies each year, and a good portion of those are baked and enjoyed around the winter holidays. For many families, no Christmas season is complete without a cookie exchange party. But is it safe to host a safe soirée in the middle of a global pandemic? The short answer is that you can still safely have an exchange, as long as you make a few adjustments. 

Sandra Kesh, M.D., the deputy medical director and infectious disease specialist at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, New York, shared her tips for the safest way to continue the tradition this year. She says the best thing to do is to only bake and interact with members of your own home and find alternative ways to distribute the cookies to everyone.

Holiday gingerbread cookie baking in process in a kitchen
Credit: fcafotodigital/Getty Images

Is it Safe to Have a Cookie Exchange This Christmas?

But how about if you want to bake and share with those you don’t live with at the moment? With numbers rising all across the country, the CDC recommends you should not host an in-person gathering right now. But according to Kesh, you can still find a way to safely share your baked goods with local friends and family. 

She explains that the biggest risk comes from being in close contact with people who don't live in your household—so having friends and family over to bake or decorate cookies isn't a good idea. Specifically, the danger comes into play around potentially-infected people who may not be showing coronavirus symptoms and may not even know they have it. But luckily, the risk of transferring COVID-19 to others via a tin of cookies dropped on their doorstep is considerably lower. The great news is that food has not been shown to be a risk factor in transmission, so the cookies themselves aren’t the main concern. 

What Can You Do Instead?

So you can still have an exchange, you'll just have to get creative about how you swap cookies. Here are a few safe ideas to consider. Just keep in mind that you should always wear a face mask when interacting with anyone who doesn't live in your household, even if you plan to be six feet apart.

Make No-Contact Deliveries

The safest way to personally distribute your cookies is to make no-contact deliveries. Make and prepare your cookies at home, then leave tins filled with your treats on your friend's and family members' front porches. Just be sure to get everyone's addresses when you coordinate the exchange so everyone knows where to drop off their cookies. 

Have a Drive-By Exchange

Consider having a “drive-by” cookie exchange of sorts, where everyone bakes and pre-packages their cookies at home, then drives by the other houses to pick up their treats. Assign each household a different weekend day in the month before Christmas to make things easy. When it's your day, make sure your cookies are cooled, packaged, and ready to go, then hand them through the car window to each person as they drive by.

Have a Virtual Baking Day

If you're not comfortable with having a drive-by exchange or dropping off cookies (or if you’re unsure of how cautious the other participants have been), consider hosting a virtual cookie baking day. Invite all bakers to sign onto a predetermined video chat location to bake and decorate in their respective kitchens, then share photos and recipes of the finished cookies when the event is over. This is also an easy way to include friends and family who aren't local. 

Have an Outdoor Exchange

“If you live in a milder climate, try hosting the exchange outside,” Seymour recommends since the virus seems to spread more easily indoors. “How fun would it be to have an outdoor cookie exchange with hot chocolate around a firepit?” Even if you'll be outside, it's always a good idea to stay distanced and wear a mask. 

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