Thinking of phoning instead of driving your way to a Christmas visit this year? The idea is getting a boost - and not just from Ma Bell.

Joseph Peed, president of the Iowa-based magazine publishing firm Hot Line Inc., is urging companies with WATS lines to lend them to the elderly for long-distance Christmas calls. For the last three years Hot Line has worked with nursing homes and senior citizen centers to schedule calls. Volunteers pitch in to team up callers and available long-distance phone lines.

For those who just want to learn a little about the holiday, Bell Telephone is offering recorded messages in several major cities answering questions like ''How is Christmas celebrated in the Netherlands?''

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Last year that venture generated 16.5 million calls. ''It's a moneymaker,'' admits a Bell spokesman.

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