‘All the leaves are brown’

Effie Caldarola

"All the leaves are brown. And the sky is gray."

As we lean into another Advent, that opening line, from the song "California Dreamin'," plays in my head. I love the Mamas and the Papas 1965 version of that famous song.

In the part of the country where I live, a warm, magnificent autumn has suddenly turned into a cold, gray winter.

"I've been for a walk on a winter's day." Yes. Yes, I have. Dug out my gloves and knitted hat, and realized that the vivid colors of fall have given way to barren branches and piles of fading leaves waiting to be composted into the good earth. In some parts of the country, much snow has fallen.

The abrupt coming of winter sparks a little sadness. It's a reminder of the swift passage of time, the brief moments of the cycles of our lives. And so, we go into a season of waiting. In our Christian tradition, we wait for the Savior's birth, the reception of the Savior into our hearts and the second coming of this Savior, promised to us in Scripture.

In the busyness of a culture that often prioritizes spending and consumption, it's hard to focus on the bare bones of our faith. But the cold, gray winter invites us to be more reflective.

But how? Again, the traditions of our faith inspire.

Do you have a creche for your home? This simple portrayal of Luke's Gospel story was supposedly St. Francis of Assisi's idea, and what a great idea it was. A soft candle burning by the creche on a dark, wintry Advent morning beckons us to prayer.

And for children, the creche is an introduction to imaginative faith. You can find very nice figures that are unbreakable, so little fingers can grasp them and rearrange them.

When I was small, we had a simple set. Some of the characters were plastic, some were breakable. But we children were allowed to move them around, a tangible way of making the story of Jesus' story personal.

I still have my favorite angel from those childhood days; and even though her head has been glued on due to an unfortunate storage incident in Mom's attic, she still has a spot in my nicer Nativity set and the memories make her priceless.

I have seen my own children, and later my grandchildren, immersed in the Christmas story when the creche is brought out at Advent.

Do you have an Advent wreath? Catholics light the candles, adding one each Advent Sunday, at Mass. But your own set makes a beautiful dinner table centerpiece, and every evening as you light the appropriate candles, you might offer personal prayers. Is there a friend having a difficult time at school? Is a relative ill? Let your prayers be reflected in the light of the Advent wreath.

Giving is a huge Christmas tradition, but it sometimes becomes "getting" for many kids. Introduce your children or grandchildren to the wish lists of your favorite charity or to the giving tree at church. Help them select the gifts and explain what the charity does and how it reflects our faith.

When we lived in Alaska, we had friends who hosted a caroling party every year. If you can go caroling on a December night in Anchorage, you can carol anywhere. What a great way to dispel the darkness and celebrate the community aspect of Jesus' birth by singing through the neighborhood. With lots of hot cocoa and cookies to follow.

Like life itself, Advent passes swiftly. Let each day find its moment of reflection.

Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column "For the Journey."