The photo from my recent Thanksgiving dinner that attracted the most attention was the cookie tree I made for the kids in our family. Since there were a lot of comments about how people might like to do this for Christmas, I thought I would give you a quick breakdown of how I put it all together (minus photos - I didn't take many!).
1) For starters, I made my sugar cookies three weeks before Thanksgiving weekend. There is enough to keep you busy in the days leading up to a big holiday that I'm sure you can think of other things that will need your attention more than cookies. Take a free afternoon a few weeks before the big day and whip up a batch, cutting them into shapes that match the theme of your event.
2) Before baking, use a straw and poke a small hole in the cookie. This will be where you thread the string or ribbon that you use to hang them. Make sure it isn't too close to the top of the cookie; I make my holes 1/4" down from the top. Bake the cookies as per the recipe and store them in an airtight container in the freezer until you need them for decorating.
3) Make the royal icing one week before decorating. My friend Marian assures me this okay. Because I used her recipe, which is made with meringue powder and not egg whites, it can be stored in a lidded container at room temperature. Colour your icing at this point, or do it just before using it. Keep different colours in separate containers.
4) Two or three days before your party/holiday send your husband and youngest son on a walk to find decent, yet barren, branches. Dig out a tall container - I used a stainless steel one I had picked up at the dollar store - and fill it almost full with sugar. Insert the sticks into the sugar, positioning them however you like. The sugar will hold them in place. To me, it looked like the branches were in snow so I covered mine with leaves from my front yard. For winter holidays I would leave it as is...it will look pretty and seasonal.
5) The day before you need your tree, remove the cookies from the freezer and decorate them with the icing. Allow the cookies to dry for a minimum of 8 hours in a non-humid space. Slide the dried cookies onto your ribbon/yarn/string and tie a double knot at the top. Hang the cookies from the branches, spreading them out evenly over the tree.
I think this would be a brilliant addition to any birthday party. Just cut out cookies that match the theme of the party, or go with something fun and festive like balloon-shaped cookies paired with ones that are cut out in the number of the birthday child.