Donna Reed/Voices | Christmas conversations

Donna Reed/Voices | Christmas conversations

By DONNA REED

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat and it may be time to put aside those phones and devices for just a little while as families and friends gather around the tree or relax together at the holiday table.

Turning off our phones as we spend time with others might require a jump-start this holiday season, so here is a suggestion to get such face-to-face conversations going. This plan does not require any maids a-milking or pipers piping, but it does require a festive container, slips of paper and willing participants.

Open-ended statements pertaining to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or another holiday are placed in a jar. Each person draws a slip of paper, reads it and shares his/her memory. Everyone has an answer to these conversation starters, so everyone participates.

For instance, here are a few examples of such open-ended holiday thoughts and some shared memories.

When I was very young, I remember one Christmas when ...

I remember one Christmas when my siblings and I produced our own Christmas pageant for the family, complete with written programs, costumes, songs, poems and visual effects. (Toilet paper snowflakes were torn and dropped from the staircase above.) It is a wonderful sibling and family memory.

A favorite gift one Christmas was ...

I received the book "Little Women" for Christmas one year. As the day wore on, and friends and relatives had gone home, I picked up the book with only mild curiosity and probably because the noisier toys had lost their appeal by late afternoon. As I read the first few pages, I can still remember the feeling that this was something very special, and I couldn't put it down. The powerful realization that a book could bring such pleasure initiated a lifetime love of reading for me.

A funny thing that happened one Christmas was ...

The skateboard story! We still laugh about it each Christmas to this day. Our son had asked for a skateboard one year. We had disguised it well among other gifts, so he wouldn't recognize it Christmas morning. As we settled in front of the fireplace opening presents, Matt mused about which gift he should open next. My husband, without a pause or even laying a finger aside of his nose, pointed to a gift and said, "open that gift next to your skateboard." Whoops!

A favorite Christmas tradition in our family is ...

We rise very early on the day after Thanksgiving to go as a family to purchase our tall Christmas tree. I can remember frigid mornings when we would all grab a hot cup of coffee as we hustled out the door, piled into the worn down pickup we owned back then and drove out into the country to find the perfect tree. The tired old truck sputtered and wheezed, it was rusted straight through in spots on the passenger floorboard and the alarming yet exhilarating possibility that it would die any minute made us all hold our breath. What a way to start the season!

When I think of Christmas, I think of ...

Family. Some answers are as simple as that.

I remember giving this gift one Christmas ...

It wasn't a brown paper package tied up with string, but rather the wrapping paper itself that turned out to be the gift. I had wrapped my husband's gifts a few years back with customized paper featuring our wonderful golden retriever, Dudley. He isn't with us this Christmas, but the wrapping paper images of our family making so many memories with him is one I'll always be thankful to have.

I always have to laugh when I think of the Christmas when ...

My siblings and I with our own families would meet at our parents' house Christmas evening to have a "HO HO gift exchange" instead of stressing over the dilemma of what to buy a brother-in-law or teenage nephew. Each of us brought a "white elephant" gift to share, the funnier the better, and we ended our Christmas day with lots of laughter from the youngest to the oldest gathered there.

Favorite foods and aromas I think of at Christmastime include ...

Grandma's best-in-the-world rolled and decorated sugar cookies, Mom's gooey pecan tassies that filled my childhood kitchen with the scent of roasted pecans and the Christmas breakfasts with hot-from-the-oven homemade cinnamon rolls — Yum!

I remember one year when Santa Claus ...

I was tucked in and supposedly sleeping upstairs one Christmas Eve long ago. All of a sudden, I heard Santa in the house rustling about with gift-wrapped presents under the tree downstairs. It was a year when I had had my doubts, but hearing him actually there in our home made my heart race and is one of my favorite childhood memories.

Putting down our phones and gathering around to share time and memories with loved ones is a way to bring family and friends together at the holidays. The best part is we all have such memories to share. Add the laughter and smiles that are sure to accompany such reflections, and these moments might be a few of our favorite things this holiday season.

Donna Reed is the author of "My Voice," essays on the warm and funny moments of life. She lives in Champaign.

-