Holiday cookie decorating!

Decorating holiday cookies is one of our favorite holiday traditions. We all sit around the big dining table, chatting and decorating and listening to Christmas music. This year my 2.5 year old (who was barely able to participate last year) was probably the MOST excited about this project. She was our most prolific cookie decorator and developed her own distinctive style optimized for Maximum Toppings. Can you identify Eliza’s cookies?

Our holiday cookies – all round due to my grocery mix-up, but still very festive!

In past years we’ve baked traditional cut-out, shaped sugar cookies. This year, I decided to take a shortcut and ordered a sugar cookie mix with my grocery delivery. But—oops—I ended up buying refrigerated sugar cookie dough (pre-shaped into rounds) by mistake. Yes, I realize that this is a mistake that can only be made in the age of online grocery delivery. No matter! We used them anyways, it was super easy, and we still had a blast decorating them.

Our decorating crew, including a cameo appearance by Grandma and Aunt Anne

Here are my favorite holiday cookie decorating tools & tips.


Obviously, this was a huge fail for me this year, so I’m going to go ahead and assume you have already made or otherwise acquired cookies. I will focus on the decorating aspect of this project. (If not, this is a pretty good recipe.)


I like this easy icing recipe from Handle the Heat. Combine 4 ingredients (confectioner’s sugar, water, vanilla, and gel food coloring) and give it a quick stir, and the icing is ready to use! If you want to make several colors of icing, you will need several batches, so make sure you stock up on confectioner’s sugar. It goes quickly. I usually make only “border icing” and skip the “flood icing” so we can create little details in every color.

Icing squeeze bottles:

I’ll never go back to the “ziplock bag with a hole cut in the corner” method now that I’ve discovered icing squeeze bottles. These are an essential! We use ours year after year, and the kids can squeeze icing onto their cookies by themselves without making a mess. Buy enough for every color – and consider having at least as many colors as you have decorators, so no one is waiting around.

Sprinkles and toppings:

Tread carefully here, folks, because sprinkles are fun but also create the biggest potential for mess. Here are my top three Sprinkle Tips:

  • Sprinkle Tip #1: When it comes to sprinkles, using slightly bigger ones make cleanup SO much easier. Sprinkles shaped like tiny Christmas trees and stars are adorable and can be picked up between two fingers to arrange on a cookie, becoming gingerbread man buttons and tree ornaments. I try to completely avoid nonpareils. Not only are they teeny-tiny, they BOUNCE. They bounce EVERYWHERE. Trust me on this one!
  • Sprinkle Tip #2: If you have very little cookie decorators, place a small amount of each decoration into a tiny dish (rather than putting the sprinkle shakers directly on the table). Those shaker bottles pour sprinkles out WAY too fast for toddlers. Make sure everyone has clean hands before decorating, and the kids can just grab a pinch of sprinkles (or an individual shaped sprinkle, if you’re following Tip Number 1!) to put directly on their cookie.
  • Sprinkle Tip #3: Use painter’s tape to attach a piece of parchment paper to the table at each person’s place as a work surface. When decorating is done, simply roll up the paper and discard. Hopefully, all those errant sprinkles and icing drips will go right into the trash with it.

Merry Christmas, everyone!!

Christmas cookies from last year (these were successfully cut-out into shapes!)