- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Gwen Strunk’s nativity scene rivals most families’ Christmas displays. It spans her entire house.

Nearly every surface in her Long Lake Township home - the end tables, the television set, the piano - is covered with angels, shepherds and wise men. Her nativity figurine collection, accrued over five decades, at one point numbered more than 800.

But the figurines serve as more than holiday decorations.

Strunk, 86, uses the display to teach area families about Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus that marks the first Christmas. She’s been hosting “Make Room for Jesus” tours for the past 40 years and estimates about 300 people shuffle through her home every December.

“It’s because I love Jesus, and I just feel that so many people miss out on the real story of Christmas because they waste their time on materialism,” Strunk told the Traverse City Record-Eagle ( https://bit.ly/1XPVsN1 ). “You’re thinking about what you’re going to buy, and you’re never thinking about sharing the love.”

Taking Strunk’s tour has become a family tradition for Interlochen resident Lynn Bosley and her grandson, Quentin Bosley, 12.

They make the journey to Bethlehem in Strunk’s living room, stop in a bedroom to learn about Jesus’ Jewish roots, discuss the history of angels around a Christmas tree and travel to an indoor pool area that serves as the Mediterranean Sea.

The tour ends with a question-and-answer session around Strunk’s dining room table while they share a spread of grapes, figs and nuts - food Strunk said Mary and Joseph would have eaten at the time.

“She can tell you so many things. You can go to church and hear the story of Christmas, but not the deep information, the background of every person, of each thing and how it all worked out and how they got to each town,” Bosley said. “I can’t even imagine how many people have come here and learned.”

The Bosleys found Strunk three or four years ago after her tours were featured on a local evening news program. They’d always set up their own nativity scene at home but saw Strunk had one character they were missing: the baker.

“The neat part about the baker is you rarely find people in the nativity smiling,” Strunk said.

Quentin fell in love with the baker’s jolly persona, so Bosely arranged a tour. Her grandson has been helping Strunk set up her intricate display every Christmas since.

Strunk is long retired and may cut back on the tours next year - the displays take about a month to set up and another month to take down - but she doesn’t think she’ll ever completely give it up.

“It’s been a fun thing,” she said. “Once you start, you can’t stop.”


Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com

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