How do you spell Christmas? If you think it starts with an "e" and ends with an "s," then we are birds of a feather. We need excess. We need cookies, lots of them, and all decorated with plenty of sugar and doodads.

Some of us are cooks, purists, concerned about taste; but others of us know that what really counts is looks. Sure, you can bake your own cookies and decorate them too, or you can skip happily ahead to frivolity. A plain delicious cookie will never fly at this time of year. So I say, bake from scratch, bake from a tube of dough from the dairy case or simply open a nice white bakery box. But whatever cookies you choose, do them up. Get out the icing, sugars, jimmies and glitter and make those cookies shimmer.

Start with a clean canvas: a simple butter or sugar cookie in a traditional shape. Then focus on making those cookies your own -- personalize them with your decorating touch. These are cookies you can proudly offer as a gift, or take along to a party. They will add sparkle and shine to any festive table.

Some of the ingredients referred to below you can find at cake decorating specialty or craft stores (see box on Page F5). These include edible color pastes, intensely colored icing pastes or gels that are much deeper in color than the tubes of coloring you find at the supermarket. For other cookies you will need sparkling sugars, sometimes called sanding sugar or glitter sugar that are also more decorative than the simple colored sugars that you find at the supermarket.

As you sit down to decorate, let your imagination roam. And, above all, have fun.

Almond paste

Red and green color pastes

A garlic press

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

White Sugar Icing (recipe on F5)

Edible glitter

Divide almond paste in half. Knead a little red color paste into one half, adding more bit by bit until desired hue is achieved. Knead a little green color paste into the other half, adding more bit by bit until desired hue is achieved.

Squeeze the red almond paste through a clean garlic press, letting the strands drop onto a plate. Wash the press and then squeeze the green almond paste through in the same manner, letting the strands drop onto another plate.

Use a small spatula to cover cookies evenly with White Sugar Icing. While the icing is still wet, cover cookies with strands of the two colored almond pastes. Handle the almond paste shreds gently or they will squish. Sprinkle lightly with edible glitter. Let cookies sit until dry.

Tiny silver and gold dragees

White sprinkles

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

White Sugar Icing (recipe on F5)

Pour each of the dragees and sprinkles onto a separate small plate.

Use a small spatula to cover cookies evenly with White Sugar Icing. While the icing is still wet dip cookies gently into dragees or sprinkles. Let sit until dry.

Very small paintbrush or pastry brush

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

Plain gelatin, dissolved in water according to package instructions

Sparkling sugar

Purchased tube of white decorating icing

Sugar poinsettias

Using the brush, coat each cookie lightly with dissolved gelatin. While the gelatin is wet, sprinkle cookies with sparkling sugar.

Squeeze a small blob of icing onto centers of cookies. Gently press poinsettias onto icing.

Plain cookies, cut in the shape of wreaths

White Sugar Icing (recipe on F5)

Assorted decorations such as:

Silver and/or gold dragees

Candied ginger pieces

Dried fruits

Candied violets

Shelled pistachios

Cashew or other nut pieces

Candied mint leaves

Use a small spatula to cover cookies evenly with White Sugar Icing. While the icing is still wet, press assorted decorations onto cookies. Let sit until dry.

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

White Sugar Icing (recipe on F5)

Slivered almonds, nicely shaped ones sorted out

Peeled hazelnuts

Use a small spatula to cover cookies evenly with White Sugar Icing. While the icing is still wet, press nuts into place to create flowers. Let sit until dry.

For the candied lemons:

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 lemons, scrubbed, sliced very thin, seeds removed

Sparkling sugar

Cover a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Put the water and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 2 minutes. Add lemon slices. When the sugar returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and let lemons cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the rinds are limp and translucent.

Use a slotted spoon to remove lemon slices to prepared pan, laying the slices in a single layer. Let dry for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle generously with sparkling sugar. Let lemons dry for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours.

For the cookies:

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

White Sugar Icing (recipe on F5)

Use a small spatula to cover cookies evenly with White Sugar Icing. While the icing is still wet, lay a candied lemon slice on each cookie. Let cookies sit until dry. Do not stack to store.

For the candied walnuts:

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 cup walnut halves

Cover a small baking pan with parchment or wax paper.

Put sugar and water into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Let boil about 4 minutes. Add walnuts and stir with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until sugar crystallizes and gives walnuts a nice, white coating. Remove from heat and dump walnuts onto prepared pan. Spread walnuts out to cool.

For the cookies:

Semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

Candied walnut halves (see above)

Edible glitter

Lay a sheet of parchment or wax paper on the counter.

Set aside a little of the chopped chocolate. Put the rest into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave briefly, 20 or 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave again. Continue to heat and stir until chocolate is nearly all melted, but not quite. Add the reserved chocolate pieces and stir until chocolate is smooth, has cooled somewhat and is a nice spreading consistency.

Dip tops of cookies in chocolate, using a small spatula to remove any excess. Set on parchment paper and, while the chocolate is still wet, press a walnut half into the center of each cookie. Sprinkle with edible glitter. Let sit until the chocolate is firm.

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

Purchased tube of white decorating icing

Meringue cookies

Confectioners' sugar

Squeeze a small blob of icing onto the center of the plain cookie. Press meringue cookie onto icing. Sift confectioners' sugar over all.

Edible gold dust

Vodka

A very small paintbrush

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

White Sugar Icing (recipe on F5)

Put a very small amount of edible gold dust into a tiny bowl or glass and add vodka drop by drop to dissolve it. Stir with the paintbrush until gold dust is a good consistency for painting.

Use a small spatula to cover cookies evenly with White Sugar Icing. Dip brush into gold paint and carefully drop dots onto icing. You may need to practice to achieve desired effect. Let sit until dry.

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

Pastry bag fitted with size 6 tip

White Sugar Icing (recipe on F5)

Sparkling sugar

Spread a large piece of parchment or wax paper on the counter and line up cookies on it, very close together.

Fit an 8- or 10-inch pastry bag with a very small, plain tip. Fill the bag with White Sugar Icing.

Drizzle cookies with icing. While the icing is still wet sprinkle with sparkling sugar. Let sit until dry.

Red color paste

Almond paste

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

White Sugar Icing (recipe on F5)

Knead a little red color paste into the almond paste, adding more bit by bit until desired hue is achieved. Break off small pieces of paste and form dots. Set aside.

Use a small spatula to cover cookies evenly with White Sugar Icing. While icing is still wet set dots on cookies. Let sit until dry.

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

Silver and gold dragees

White jimmies

Pastry bag fitted with size 6 tip

White Sugar Icing (recipe at right)

Spread a large piece of parchment or wax paper on the counter and line cookies up on it, very close together. Set out small bowls of dragees and jimmies.

Fit an 8- or 10-inch pastry bag with a very small, plain tip. Fill the bag with White Sugar Icing.

Drizzle cookies with icing. While the icing is still wet sprinkle with jimmies. Let sit until dry.

For the chocolate cookies:

Semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

Chocolate jimmies

Lay a sheet of parchment or wax paper on the counter.

Set aside a little of the chopped chocolate. Put the rest into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave briefly, 20 or 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave again. Continue to heat and stir until chocolate is nearly all melted, but not quite. Add the reserved chocolate pieces and stir until chocolate is smooth, has cooled somewhat and is a nice spreading consistency.

Dip tops of cookies in chocolate, using a small spatula to remove any excess. Set on parchment paper and, while the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle with jimmies. Let sit until the chocolate is firm.

For the white cookies:

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

White Sugar Icing (recipe at right)

White jimmies

Use a small spatula to coat cookies evenly with White Sugar Icing. While the icing is still wet sprinkle with jimmies. Let sit until dry.

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

White Sugar Icing (recipe at right)

Sugar flowers

Edible glitter

Use a small spatula to cover cookies evenly with White Sugar Icing. While the icing is still wet, press flowers into place. Sprinkle with edible glitter. Let sit until dry.

Partially baked cookies, baked until firm, about 2 to 3 minutes short of being done (plain sugar cookies are perfect)

Egg yolks, lightly beaten

Color pastes

Very small paintbrushes

Drop an egg yolk into each of several small bowls. Add small amounts of color pastes to each, stirring and adding until desired colors are achieved.

Use brushes to paint designs on partially baked cookies. Return to oven until paints are set, about 2 to 3 minutes. Cool.

Very small paintbrush or pastry brush

Plain cookies, store-bought or homemade

Plain gelatin, dissolved in water according to package instructions

Edible glitter

Use a brush to coat each cookie lightly with dissolved gelatin. While the gelatin is wet, sprinkle cookies with edible glitter.

White Sugar Icing

(Makes 1 cup)

If you want your icing to be absolutely white, you may substitute solid vegetable shortening for the butter.

2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

11/2 to 2 tablespoons milk

Beat together the sugar and butter until smooth. Stir in 11/2 tablespoons milk. Beat until smooth, adding more milk a tiny bit at a time until icing is a good piping consistency.

Lisa Cherkasky is a Washington writer and food stylist.

Where to find decorating supplies, Page 5 Cookie packing ideas, Page 5 Cool snowflake cookie cutters, Page 31. Green and Red Wreaths2. Silver, Gold and White Sequins3. Poinsettias on Sparkling Sugar4. Candied Fruit Wreaths11. Red Polka Dots12. White and Silver Stars13. Black and White Sprinkle-Topped15. Red and Green Painted16. Red and White Sparkling Stars14. Poinsettias on Icing5. Almond and Hazelnut Flower6. Candied Lemon Rounds7. Chocolate Glaze With Candied Walnut8. Meringue Kiss-Topped9. Gold Polka Dots