the true meaning of the holiday season

Photo: Brian A. Taylor Photography. Used with permission.

Friends, the weather outside is frightful, so I’m glad to be here in my writing room, sharing this post on the true meaning of the holiday season.

I’m also glad that we have central heating this winter. Happiness really is the small things, like not having to wear a hat in the house.

And this reminds me of another story about four girls backpacking through Europe. It’s one of my favorites, because I was one of those girls.

Now, I could tell you a lot of dramatic stories about that trip. I could tell you about the time we were (politely) thrown off a train in Pamplona, two weeks after the running of the bulls. I could tell you about how we slept in a public park, how two American soldiers stood guard over us.

But the story I want to tell is a quiet one.

A Train Ride to Remember

We were riding an overnight train from Spain to Monaco, or Monaco to Italy. (We did this often, to save money.) We were tired – we were backpacking, so we were always tired – but it was one of those nights. A night in which the world is edged in magic, and you want to stay awake and see it all.

friendship, the true meaning of the holiday seasonEven so, we knew we needed rest. So my friend Sarah took out her Discman – this was in the days of Discmans! – and put on a Norah Jones CD.

She handed me an earbud, and we listened in one ear each. We had to position ourselves carefully so that the cord would reach across the bunk beds, but we managed it.

An odd configuration, true, but it was utterly peaceful, listening to those lullabies. It was one of those times when – all of the sudden and seemingly out of nowhere – you find yourself thinking, I will remember this for the rest of my life.

I can’t remember much of the magnificent interior of St. Peter’s Basilica, but I can clearly picture that Discman of Sarah’s. It was bright yellow and black, like a bumble bee. That’s memory for you. You can’t reason with it. It just goes ahead remembering what it loves.

Six years after that trip, I fell in love and got married. When I did, I asked my friend Allison to sing “Come Away with Me,” at the wedding. And when she did, I heard everything come together.

I heard that old Discman playing in the past, Allison’s lovely voice resonating in the present, and a promise illuminating the future: Come away with me and I’ll never stop loving you.

The True Meaning of the Holiday Season

What we want most this time of year is as simple as one friend handing another an earbud, as ancient as making a promise to love. We don’t really want more gifts and events and hassle and running around. We just want to share our best music with one another.

We just want to experience beauty together, to hear a sweet voice telling us that everything will be all right. We just want to fall asleep with the knowledge that – even if we’re apart for much of the year – for this one night, we’re traveling on together.

So that’s what I wish for you this holiday. Not glamor and glitz or everything on your list. Just shared music.

And when the music fades, I wish for you the silence at the heart of a holy night.


What do you think is the true meaning of the holiday season? What are you enjoying this year? Share your story in the comments section below!

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  1. Hands Free Mama December 17, 2013 at 5:28 PM - Reply

    This is so beautiful. So simple, yet so powerful. I remember in college when I was cramming for a test, feeling homesick, feeling like a failure. I was overwhelmed. My friend handed me an earbud and we listened to Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up.” It was more comforting that anything she could have given me or anything she could have said. Thank you for bringing this memory back to me today. You are a gift! Thank you for sharing you beautiful heart.

    • Caroline McGraw December 17, 2013 at 6:09 PM - Reply

      Rachel, thank you so much! That means a great deal to hear — I’ve just finished reading the Hands Free Mama book, and it has been inspiring me to treasure those simple-yet-powerful moments of connection. And I love that you have an ‘earbud’ story too — that’s so fitting. Thank you for your sharing, encouragement, and friendship. <3

  2. donna December 18, 2013 at 10:24 PM - Reply

    Thank God for those moments of connection that touch out memory! As you said, it isn’t always the big stuff, but the wonderfully satisfying stuff. I remember you (as a fussy baby!) just stopping feeding, letting your head drop back while letting out a sigh of contentment before you zonked out into sleep. Never will forget it! Caroline contented. Love you!

    • Caroline McGraw December 18, 2013 at 10:47 PM - Reply

      What a sweet memory! Way to make me tear up, Mom. I love you too. xo

  3. Olga Jendrek December 18, 2013 at 11:02 PM - Reply

    Oh, the memory of four girls pack-backing through Europe. That was an adventurous trip.
    I agree that we should forget the glamor and glitz — let’s share quality time with those we love.

    • Caroline McGraw December 18, 2013 at 11:10 PM - Reply

      Indeed it was! 🙂 And I couldn’t agree more. So glad we were able to spend a little time together over Thanksgiving!

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