At my house, decorating holiday sugar cookies is an annual tradition that involves children, friends, Charlie Brown, and lots of sanding sugar! It is sweet, messy, warming, nurturing, and fun.
First, we set a weekend date in December and plan our guest list, including all children within a family and their parents. We cap at about 15 kids, a mix of boys and girls ages 6-11, although I started doing this when the range was more like 1-5.
Then we gather ingredients and equipment: food coloring, sanding sugar, sprinkles, jimmies, pareils, cinnamon dots, chocolate chips, candy dots, icing squeeze bottles with tips, pastry bags, silicone baking cups, shaker bottles, cookie tins or containers, and freezer paper.
About three days before the party, I bake Alton Brown's Sugar Cookies by the gross. I aim for each child to decorate / take home 8-12 cookies. I fill each container or tin with plain cookies and label each container with the child's name.
The day of the party, my child co-hosts cover the table with freezer paper and set out ingredients. I have several damp kitchen cloths at the ready to mop up any spills. I make Alton Brown's Royal Icing and pour it into the icing squeeze bottles.
When everyone has arrived, we get down to the business of decorating the cookies. Each child has a different method. One decorates one cookie at a time from start to finish, carefully piping icing around the edge of the cookie and filling it in with icing, allowing the icing time to set a bit before continuing with careful application of just enough sanding sugar to be pretty. A few others decorate them assembly-line style. Some children heap mounds of sanding sugar and decorations on so thick as to obscure the cookie's original shape and requiring a quick shove into one’s mouth before the whole thing collapses. One child simply eats the cookies plain without any decoration.
After the table, floor, chairs, and most faces are covered in goo, we retire to the living room where the children watch a couple of cartoon episodes of Charlie Brown and the adults relax with a glass of wine or a hot toddy and sneak cookies from our kids’ containers.