Near Mapleton, a group of deer on Christmas Eve

Near Mapleton, a group of deer on Christmas Eve

By MIKE NORTON

Whitetail deer are no rarity in Traverse City. We see them often: at the edge of the forest, down along the lakeshore, or framed by the bare branches of cherry trees in midwinter orchards. But for some reason that familiarity doesn’t diminish the beauty and wonder of each encounter.

I saw a small group of them this morning on the way to work: standing in perfect stillness in the new snow. And because today was Christmas Eve I stopped the car to snap their picture, thinking about the chorus to that jolly carol, “The Holly and the Ivy.”

Oh, the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.
 
I got an extra dose of holiday spirit when I arrived at work and saw some photos of the Christmas lights around Traverse City and of the Live Nativity display put on every year by the congregation of Bayview Wesleyan Church. Each December, costumed volunteers silently reenact the birth of Christ at night on the lawn in front of the church, surrounded by live sheep, goats and other farm animals. My kids always loved it, especially the animals.

That’s the part of Christmas I love best. The sheer carnality of it. Sunlight, deer, music, and the amazing idea of the Incarnation. No airy-fairy spirituality. Nothing is more down-to-earth than the idea of God, well, coming down to Earth.

The Live Nativity at Traverse City's Bayview Wesleyan Church

The Live Nativity at Traverse City's Bayview Wesleyan Church

For many people, of course, it will all be over by Wednesday. The trees will come down, the decorations will go back into the attics and closets, the holiday CDs will be filed away. “Christmas” will have served its purpose as a tool of mass consumption, and will be expected to quietly return to storage for another year.

But at our house, we’ll just be getting started. We’ve been in an Advent holding pattern for the past four weeks and will have a lot of pent-up merrymaking to do. For the next twelve days, from Christmas until Jan. 6, we’ll be celebrating. And each night when everyone has gone to bed, someone will move the little carved figures of the three Wise Men a little closer to the manger scene in the living room to mark the approach of the Feast of the Epiphany.

Best of all, with the gift-buying and gift-giving behind us, we’ll have the quiet time we need to let this season penetrate us with its light and its truth. Time to turn inward, to ask ourselves the question that must always be asked: “What does this mean?”

For me, at least, it means relearning the lesson of gratitude. As I review the photographs that have marked the passage of this year, I’m struck by the beauty of this world, and especially this place where I’m privileged to live. I’m inspired by the people around me who display kindness, nobility, courage and faith in the face of daunting odds, and I’m humbled by the workings of Providence in my own life and the lives of those I love. This year, perhaps I’ll learn to be so grateful that I’ll stop fretting, worrying and fussing – and maybe just enjoy it all.

Merry Christmas!

Oh, by the way, one other place where things are just getting started is the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, which is unrolling a nice menu of indoor and outdoor activities starting this week.

The Resort’s main winter activity hub, the Clubhouse, opens its doors the day after Christmas and will be open every day until Jan. 1 to ring in the New Year. Then, from Jan. 4 through Feb. 24, it’ll be open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for ice skating, cross-country skiing, dog sledding (on select weekends) as well as kids’ activities like snowman-building contests, tic-tac-toe in the snow and snow castle making.

In addition, guests can venture off the resort property to enjoy nearby snowmobiling from Blue Sky Rentals, horse-drawn sleigh rides at Antler Ridge Farm and tubing, skiing and snowboarding at the Mt. Holiday Ski & Recreation Area

After an afternoon of outdoor fun, guests can get toasty making s’mores at the outdoor bonfire and “warm up from the inside” with a cup of apple cider and a sandwich from the Resort’s Clubhouse Grille dining room and bar. Dylan’s Candy Bar, in the resort’s Gallery of Shops, can fulfill guests’ sugar rush needs in a hundred sweet ways before getting a taste of warm weather fun in the resort’s Indoor Water Playground for swimming and splashing fun. (And a visit to the Spa Grand Traverse can warm and soothe tired muscles.)

They’re also offering a “Family Fun Weekend” package, that includes two nights’ accommodations, four breakfast coupons at the Sweetwater American Bistro and lots of other amenities.