This is the last article in the three-part series “Easy as 1-2-3 Christmas.” If you haven’t read the first two articles, you will want to start here.
The Christmas Cookie Contest is the third component of our church’s beloved tradition The Christmas Experience. Even though we call it a contest, it has very little to do with competition and everything to do with cultivating relationships and a sense of community. OK, it is a little friendly competition (emphasis on little) but it feels more like a fun cookie party that inspires good times and goodwill.
Here’s a step-by-step description of how we plan and execute the cookie contest.
- We announce and promote this event at least four weeks in advance. People’s calendars fill up quickly during the holidays, so the earlier you start promoting it, the better. I suggest you download our Resource Pack for customizable graphics you can use to make sure your event gets noticed.
- We make it clear that this is not a church event but a community event, and we encourage our people to invite their friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, sports team, book group and so on.
- To make it easy for people to invite their friends, we pass out invitation cards and posters—something tangible that they can share with others.
- We make sure that our promotion takes place inside the church walls and outside. For that reason we run a Facebook ad campaign directing people to our website for more information and registration.
- Each summer our church runs a 5-day sports camp that brings many new families to our church. We create a separate email list with their addresses and every time we host a special event, we send out an invitation to those families. Since they have already had a positive interaction with our church in the summer, they will be more likely to attend a Christmas event. This allows us to continue building a relationship with them.
- You may want to take advantage of the community boards that can be found in many gyms, libraries, coffee shops and restaurants. Just be sure to ask permission before displaying your poster on the community bulletin board.
- As you know from the first article, six weeks before the event we set up The Christmas Experience kiosk in our church building. This is where people can get all the information and invitations, and where they can sign up for one or more of the activities.
- We provide two options for registration: 1) paper (at the kiosk on Sunday) and 2) on-line.
- We make it clear that this is a family event which means that baking teams must consist of parents (grandparents) and children (up to 15 years old.) The process of making cookies should be a team effort from start to finish.
- All cookies are made at home. On the day of the event, parent-child teams bring their creations to church, proudly display them and let people taste them.
- Teams can make any type of cookies. Each team is allowed to enter three different kinds of cookies.
- We ask the teams to bring at least three dozen (36) cookies of each kind. This will allow people to sample them and vote for People’s Choice.
- We also ask teams to have copies of their recipes that would include a list of ingredients, amounts, and complete directions.
- Each cookie is assigned a number id. This way, people can truly vote for a cookie and not a baker. We display number ids (represented by double side plastic table numbers) using these table number holders.
- Each team is responsible for displaying their baking efforts on platters, in baskets or gift boxes, hanging from miniature Christmas trees, or any other imaginative way that strikes their fancy.
- Remember, that clear communication between you (event organizer) and baking teams (event participants) is a key to the success of this activity. Check out PDF file Christmas Cookie Contest Communications to make sure you don't miss anything. The file is included in the Resource Pack. Feel free to copy and paste, and make it your own.
- We put a lot of thought into deciding who we will have judge the contest. We invite five judges. On the day of the event we provide them with a score board, pencils, cookie judge badges, a calculator, and plenty of water and coffee. Make sure the judges you invite have good taste and are fun, fair, and able to make people laugh. Local celebrities, politicians, and community leaders make for esteemed judges, but the most important qualification for being a Christmas cookie judge is that they love cookies.
- We ask the judges to rate each cookie by the following factors: appearance, aroma, texture, and flavor. (The score board is included in this Resource Pack.)
- To make the judges’ job a little bit easier, we provide them with “The Art of Judging Christmas Cookies” guide ahead of time (included in the Resource Pack.)
- The People’s Choice Award includes a trophy, $50 Target gift card plus Christmas goodies.
- The Ultimate Christmas Cookie Award includes a trophy, $100 Target gift card plus Christmas goodies.
- As you know, The Christmas Experience has two other components/activities. The Manger Project is the noisiest one, because of all the hammering that is going on. We make sure that the place we designate for it (we call it Joseph’s Workshop) is spacious and comfortable, yet adequately removed from the rest of the activities. Gingerbread Creations is the most popular activity, and it gets the most spacious room (church auditorium) which we call Mary’s Kitchen. The Christmas Cookie contest is the yummiest part of the evening and we make sure that it’s impossible to miss. For that reason, we set it up in the foyer of our church. As soon as people come through the entrance door, they see all the beautiful displays (tables along the foyer walls) and are invited to taste and vote for their favorite.
- To make it easy for people to vote, we provide two stations with: score cards, pencils, small plates and small water bottles. Our greeters point out these stations and the ballot box (a Christmas Cookie Box) when people arrive for The Christmas Experience. They encourage everyone to taste as many cookies as possible and vote for their favorite to win the People’s Choice Award.
- At the appointed time, we tally up the People’s Choice votes and determine the winner.
- When the judges are ready to announce the winners, we invite everyone to gather in the foyer. First, the judges share a few comments and then award prizes—the People’s Choice Award and The Ultimate Christmas Cookie Award.
- We order our trophies from www.buyawardsandtrophies.com For the People’s Choice we purchase the Resin Stand Cookie Bake Off Trophy and for the Ultimate Award we purchase the Cookie Bake Off Rising Stars Trophy.
- Here are the goodies that we include along with the trophies and gift cards:
- In case, you’d like to have a cookie-themed soundtrack for your event, here are some tunes you might want to put on your playlist:
- Here's a fun, inexpensive craft you can make available for younger children while they're waiting for the results of the contest.
If you’ve read this entire series, you know that The Christmas Experience is all about simplicity, warmth and community. It’s not a fancy event that requires a lot of people and resources. We are not trying to compete with other churches in the area or outdo what we did in the past. We found what worked for us and it quickly became a tradition which we are happy to keep for a while.
When it comes to Christmas events, we want to make sure that they add value to families but don’t wear us out in the process. If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be: keep it simple and enjoy your Christmas event. There’s no right or wrong way to do The Christmas Experience. You might want to start with only one component and then add others in the years to come.
Remember, the best thing you can do during the holiday frenzy is to create space for families to slow down, catch their breath, re-connect with each other and share memorable moments.
Let me finish with a quote from Kent Shaffer:
Who cares if your Christmas festivities are worthy of Broadway, if your entire church staff is cold, tense and irritable because of an unhealthy hyper focus on performance? … Happiness is contagious. Enjoy your Christmas.
If you like this article so much that you want to send my wife and me on a coffee date, that would be lovely. (Coffee Date Launchpad is HERE.) Thank you so much!