Archived Story

Christmas is more than presents

Published 10:05am Friday, December 24, 2010

Today is Christmas eve and many of us will be opening presents tonight and tomorrow.

I like presents. I like them a lot.

But one of my boys thinks I’m a Scrooge or that I lack Christmas spirit because I’m not as excited about opening presents as I could be.

That’s because I’d rather see friends and relatives at Christmas time rather get open a whole bunch of presents under the tree.

I’m excited to be at the home of my sister in Lakeville later today. I’ll have at least five nieces and nephews to climb all over me — nine if my brother makes it for Christmas.

My mom will be there, whom I haven’t seen in well over a year and my brothers-in-law who are always good for a laugh and some sports talk.

I know my sister will have plates and plates of Christmas cookies. She has a very important job in recreating the cookies and treats from our childhood. You know, the ones I can still see sitting in the nook at my Grandma Gangelhoff’s house.

I don’t know when Grandma baked, but I remember that she sure baked a lot.

There are three cookies I remember the second I start thinking about Christmas time at my grandma’s house. There was a bar with a nut and brown sugar glaze; the best spritzes in the whole wide world; and green wreaths made from corn flakes and marshmallow with little cinnamon red hots for the berries of the holly.

When I close my eyes I can still see the round, gold metal cookie boxes with the intricate designs that seemed to be stacked by the dozen on the porch. And I can still hear her calling to my Grandpa Gangelhoff, “Father Joseph, bring in some cookies.” (My grandpa passed away 26 years ago this week and I still scratch my head at why he was called Father Joseph because his name was Harold.)

I bring up cookies, because it seems that long ago (OK, not SO long ago because I’m only 47) cookies and people seemed connected at Christmas time. I assume all the cookies were baked because of holiday entertaining.

As a boy, it was normal to pack up in the car many nights in December and head off to the homes of relatives, mainly uncles and aunts on my dad’s side of the family.

It was a big deal to visit relatives and see their Christmas trees. You know, I can still picture where the Christmas trees sat in the homes of both my Grandma and Grandpa Gangelhoff and Grandma and Grandpa Hage. I can recall some of the ornaments that graced those magnificent trees and the Christmas decorations that adorned their living rooms — like the white church that sat on the coffee table at Grandma and Grandpa Hage’s house every year from my birth until their passing.

When I woke up Christmas morning there were presents under the tree. But who really knows what was wrapped in those boxes and placed under the tree. I could never sit and write a column about all the great presents I received as a child, or even as an adult.

But I can go on and on about the people who later in the day sat by that tree or by the fireplace after relatives came over for Christmas dinner.

So here’s a lesson I hope my boys will pick up on.

They’ll get some really cool presents tonight and tomorrow. But in time they will break, get pushed aside, or be replaced by a newer technology and be rendered obsolete.

But you always remember sitting around the tree with your family and when you stop and think about it — and I mean really put some effort into it — it’s that time around the tree with family that will be some of the best times of your life.

For me, I’m sure I’ll receive some presents I’ll really appreciate.

But what I look forward to the most is going to my sister Amy’s house to spend time with relatives and to see what she did with the request I wrote in her Christmas card that she make Grandma Gangelhoff’s green Christmas wreaths.

If those wreaths are sitting on the table with those little candied red hots on them, that will bring back wonderful memories and will be a big part of Christmas for me.

Jeff Hage is The Journal’s managing editor. E-mail him at

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