I still remember those Christmases from when my grandmother was still alive. My uncle Pat and his family lived in Philadelphia then. My family would take the train to the North Philadelphia station where Pat would meet us.
Christmas was in my grandmother’s 3rd-floor walkup apartment. I don’t remember much about the meals. What I remember is that, after we were done eating, my father and my uncles would go into the front room and talk. Usually, they put a TV on. They didn’t watch the TV. They talked and most of the talking involved telling stories.
My father was a preacher and used stories in his sermons, but that wasn’t the kind of story he and my uncles told. They told stories about growing up. They told stories about living through the Depression. My uncle might talk a little about being a conscientious objector during World War II or being the drummer in a jazz band.
Nobody stood up or made fancy gestures. My uncle made the same gestures with his cigar over and over. Nobody was an official “storyteller.” They were sharing.
Their stories wrapped me in family. It’s how I learned about what was important. Later, when I was a teenager going out for the evening, my mother would always remind me to “Remember who you are.” She was telling me to remember the lessons from all those stories.
On Christmas Day, millions of us will gather around a table with other members of our family. We’ll talk, eat, and laugh. And we’ll tell stories. We’ll do what human beings have done since we invented language.
The storytellers are important, but you can do an immeasurable service to yourself and your family if you become a storyasker. Ask to hear the stories that you particularly love about your family and what you value. Ask for stories about things you don’t understand or just want to know more about.
Be careful, though. Don’t ask people to share stories that they don’t want to share. My Uncle John was a homicide detective. He never talked about his work. Many vets don’t want to talk about their war experience, no matter how much you want to hear about it.
Family storytellers perform an amazing service. They’re the transmitters of culture and values. Maybe you can’t tell a story. That’s okay. Maybe you can tell a story, but you know of family stories that need to be shared. You can ask to hear them.
This Christmas make sure that important stories get told. Ask to hear them. Here’s a handy phrase: “Tell me about the time…”
We tell stories to share family values.
Christmas time is story time.
Help make sure important stories get told.
Don’t ask people to share stories that they don’t want to share.