The “Bazaar” Gift Exchange: AKA the Calorie-Free Cookie Exchange
The cookie exchange was designed to combine the baking talents of different women and save time by having each woman bake only one type of treat. Thus, you could make multiple batches of mint fudge, then trade it for dozens of other baked goods. Everyone made only one type of cookie, yet went home with a wide variety of treats.
Despite the good intention, there are several drawbacks to this holiday tradition. To begin with, we’re creating more work for ourselves and each other. Home baked goods are special because they come from a place of love and comfort. The task of making dozens of cookies (for an already stressed woman), results in poor quality. For evidence, I need only to turn to a plethora of cookie exchange attendees who have brought cookies from the store or, even sadder, the ready-to-bake cookies that women have tried to pass off as homemade. Next, some of the ingredients can become quite pricey. With the cost of the baked goods, together with the tradition of bringing a pot-luck dish and a bottle of alcohol, the price tag of a cookie exchange can easily top $50. Thus, over time, the point of saving time while making a meaningful gift has become lost.
Finally, as a woman who has lost 70 pounds, and as a physician caring for obese patients, I think that we as a society place too much emphasis on food. I am NOT advocating deprivation. As I write this, I’m fondly recalling the key lime cheesecake with raspberry sauce I had for dessert last night. I do believe, however, that we mindlessly graze on poor-quality, unhealthy food, simply because it’s available. Instead of eating stale, two-week-old cookies, spend time laughing with friends and save the calories for a dessert that is truly decadent, rather than just available.
Rest assured, however, there is a much easier, cheaper, and calorie-free solution. The Bazaar Exchange. This is a shockingly fun way to clean out your closet and obtain new treasures without spending a dime. Here are the details.
1. Invite your friends for a “bazaar exchange” instead of a traditional cookie exchange. The event should last only one to two hours. Serve only a few beverages. This makes planning easier and focuses the party on the gifts, rather than food. Easy ideas are water, iced tea, sparkling water, or hot cider.
2. The rules are simple. Clean out your closet and bring anything you find. No gift is too “good” or too “bad.” Surprisingly popular items include partially used perfume, old candles, purses, dishes, artwork, children’s toys, books, makeup samples, and even coupons.
3. Award a prize for the craziest donation. This just makes it fun and gives people permission to bring odd items. At my most recent bazaar, popular items included a double stroller, a two-hour art lesson certificate, and partially used boxes of tea and K-cups (flavors the owner tried but did not enjoy.)
4. Attendees get to take home as many treasures as they bring. No need to be firm on this rule; most people take home less than they bring, but it does incentivize them to bring lots of treasures. You can also do a “last call” and give people a chance to raid the donations at the end of the party.
5. Donate any leftover, appropriate items to charity. Many cities are even blessed with charity trucks that come to your house to pick up your donations.
How does junk translate to Christmas gifts? To begin with, nobody is paying 20 dollars or more for baking ingredients. This alone leaves money to buy a gift equivalent to a plate of cookies. But, even better is that many people bring brand new items to the bazaar. Items have included new clothes, shoes, picture frames, artwork, perfume, wallets, books, and even toys. If attendees are thinking of their gift list when they make selections, they might easily walk away with more gifts than they would from a cookie exchange. Finally, they may take home a gift that saves money and thus provides more funds for others. As an example, one woman saved around 30 dollars because she chose two almost-full boxes of K-cups for her coffee brewer. (The previous owner did not enjoy the flavor.) Now, her coffee budget can be put toward gifts.
But the exchange is so much more. In all likelihood, we know somebody who is struggling financially right now. This party is a great way to help a friend, without making anybody feel less than. There is no money required to participate and, really, a donation is not even necessary. (On my invitations I write, “In case you forget your items, or just made a charity donation, please come anyway. I have plenty to share.”) For friends who need it most, it means “shopping” for themselves or loved ones without the financial burden, and that is a huge gift.
You can make this event kid-friendly as well. Set up a separate area for children to let them make selections too. This helps during the holidays because there is no need to hire a babysitter, and the kids see an immediate reward for parting with a few toys. (A great gift to parents at a party is to hire a babysitter to help watch all of the children while the adults enjoy themselves, knowing their children are in good hands.)
The most surprising aspect is how much fun this exchange can be. People tell stories about their “embarrassing” donations. When we reveal our insecurities, it makes us feel more connected with one another. The woman who brought a gift certificate for an art class seemed timid and wondered if it was an appropriate donation. If you have seen my recent posting of my attempt at painting on Facebook, you will correctly guess that I practically tore it out of her hand in my excitement! The point is, we all have treasure and wonderful gifts we take for granted, not just physical but spiritually. What one of us views as an embarrassment, another views as an amazing gift. Sometimes, it takes bringing out our junk to realize we all have buried treasure. This year, try the party that everyone can afford that guarantees laughs and a clean closet.
Leave a comment and share with us your party plans. Here’s to a Bazaar Party!
Dr. Jennifer Hanes is a nationally recognized, board-certified emergency and integrative medicine physician in Austin, Texas. She has lost 70 pounds and outlines those secrets in her upcoming book, The Princess Plan. It is the only weight loss book written by a physician who has personally conquered obesity. You can connect with her at www.DrHanes.com and learn more about scheduling your own personal phone appointment to answer all of your medical questions.