Family, friends, food and fun just seem to go hand in hand this time of year. Gathering to prepare or share favorite dishes and special treats (like the Buttery Spritz Cookies shown at right) is the perfect way to celebrate life and all our blessings. Check out the tasty ways these readers savor the season.


Cookie Swap is Tradition

"The first Saturday in December, my friend Darleen Snider and I kick off the holidays by hosting our annual brunch and cookie swap for the same 10 friends," notes Gwen Baker of Springfield, Missouri.

"Each year we select a theme. It's reflected in the invitations and table decorations we choose. We make up recipe booklets for each person and date handmade ornaments, which we use as napkin rings and favors. The booklets contain both the brunch recipes and those for the cookies brought by the guests.

"One year Darleen and I bought small market baskets on sale and decorated them with Christmas paper ribbon and hand-painted wooden Christmas trees with each guest's name. Our friends use them every year to bring their cookies to and from the brunch.

"We also keep a journal to jot down notes immediately following the swap. We tell how everything went and make suggestions for improvements and ideas for future themes.

"Our families can hardly wait for us to open the baskets when we get home so they can begin sampling. They tell us each year is better than the one before!"


Fun Cookie-Trimming Party

"My husband, John, and I invite up to 30 of our friends and neighbors for a cookie decorating party every year the week before Christmas," says field editor Sue Greenall of Windsor, Vermont.

"We make several hundred cutout cookies, using my large collection of cutters, and fix big batches of icing in various colors. We set out a wide array of sprinkles and other decorating items. Each guest gets a plate of plain cookies and decorates the treats any way they wish. Of course, they take the cookies home afterward.

"We all have a super time. Our guests say that having a chance to skip the work and simply enjoy the pure fun of decorating cookies makes them feel like kids again!"


Tasty 'Thank You' Buffet

"We hosted a 'thank you' holiday open house for the adult volunteers who help us run the Visitor Information Center here at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana," explains Darlene Lemen of West Lafayette.

"Since those folks give up their free time to help people enjoy their campus visits, we wanted the gathering to be extra special. "Annette Goben, Lisa Fetla, Deb Dimmitt and I did all the cooking ourselves.

"When we were planning for the buffet, we turned to Taste of Home since we're all big fans. Easy finger foods sounded wonderful. We picked eight appetizers that we figured would just 'knock their socks off' and we were right. We made them all, added holiday beverages, decorations and cheer…and our party was a huge success!"


Treats Make Spirits Bright

"For years, our neighborhood has held a cookie exchange right after Thanksgiving," writes field editor Iola Egle of McCook, Nebraska.

"We meet in a different home each time. We each bring one kind of cookie and supply the recipe to the hostess in advance so she can make copies for all those attending.

"After sampling the cookies, we pick out our favorites. We take home the same number that we brought, only a wonderful variety of them.

"One year, we assembled boxes for some elderly friends. We went to their homes, sang Christmas carols and left a box of cookies. That was our most rewarding project of all."