TODAY’S FORECAST: Christmas Spirit
Fifteen years ago, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I drove with Bob into Frankenmuth, Michigan for the very first time. We were newly engaged, head over heels in love and excited that we had kicked off the start of our first official holiday season as a couple, after our six-week whirlwind romance. I so clearly remember about a week before he proposed to me, Bob told me about Frankenmuth and what it meant to him. He had what I can only describe as a smile in his eyes as he said, “Every year on the weekend after Thanksgiving, my family stays at a place called Frankenmuth. It is a little German village with Christmas shops – just a great place to kick off the Christmas season and get into the Christmas spirit. I can’t wait to show it to you.”
To say I was excited was an understatement.
The days went quickly and before I knew it, it was time for the trip. After a wonderful first Thanksgiving together with my family at my parents’ house, Bob and I got up the next day still stuffed full of turkey and pumpkin pie, went to work and then drove into Frankenmuth late that evening. It was a four-hour drive and we listened to Christmas music the whole way there, starting our first family tradition. As we neared the town and began passing all the billboard signs advertising the various restaurants and shops in Frankenmuth, I was like a little kid, bouncing up and down in my seat in anticipation. The experience did not disappoint.
I remember as we were first entering the village, my eyes couldn’t keep up with everything we were driving past. There was a good mile-long line of “larger than life” outdoor light-up decorations outside of Bronner’s: The World’s Largest CHRISTmas Store. I remember catching a glimpse of the white dome top of the Silent Night Memorial Chapel replica, seeing the shops all lit with lights and garland, the nativity, the river, the mill, the German clock, the strings of stars and lights across lampposts every 50 feet, the horse-drawn carriages; it was completely magical.
Over the course of the weekend, we shared much precious time with Bob’s family walking into each and every one of those delightfully decorated little shops in town. We went to the local winery and tavern, watched the little ones swim at the hotel pool, shared a wonderful family style chicken dinner and watched Christmas movies that I soon learned were a family tradition.
Bob and I bought some of our first Christmas decorations together that weekend. We took our own fairy-tale horse and carriage ride, snuggling closely under a wool blanket with the sounds of more Christmas music and the gentle clip-clop of the horse’s hooves serving as background noise. We paid silent respect at the Silent Night Memorial Chapel and stole some special “alone time” over a snack at the Bavarian Inn Cafe.
I was awestruck as we stood together on the riverbank which declared “Peace on Earth” among white backdrops of the city of Bethlehem and the nativity celebrating Jesus’ birth. I remember feeling that I had witnessed something truly rare that a photograph would never accurately capture. I still feel that way, 15 years later.
Granted, things have changed a bit over the past 15 years. The village has added a few new hotels and a waterpark to accommodate the growing number of guests each year. They’ve added a group of specialty shops called Riverplace where you can buy personalized items for your pets or stop in at the day spa to get a massage. Some of our old favorite shops like the Old School Haus and Aunt Hattie’s Corner closed up due to the economy and haven’t been operating for several years. Still, for the most part, the town remains the same, greeting us every year with its lights, its savory family style meals and a focus on family.
As for the “world’s largest CHRISTmas store,” well, Bronners is just an experience in and of itself. It too did not disappoint that first visit. In fact, I think it is probably among my favorite things to see at Frankenmuth still today, just because it’s so “over the top.” Besides the thousands of Christmas lights and decorations, Santa is there. If any Santa could convince me he’s the “real” Santa, it’s this guy. Every year he somehow knows EXACTLY what our kids have been up to, some years making them promise not to fight, some years to do a better job keeping their rooms clean, other years to pick up their toys or listen the first time they’re asked. This year he told them that even if they didn’t like something on their plates, they had to “at least eat a big bite and a half or no snacks or dessert.” He always reminds them to say their prayers and asks them what the one special item is that they want for Christmas. This is the part I really love; he tells them, “If you’re good, I will try my best to get that one special item, but if I can’t, would it be alright if I gave you something else special in its place that I think you’d enjoy?” Yep, Bronners’ Santa has always been and will alway be my favorite! 😉 (Did I also mention we’ve had the same Santa every year? Who says he might not be the “real” deal?)
I guess, no matter how old I am or how many times I go there, Frankenmuth will always hold a certain magic for me. Maybe it was that first year with Bob and his family, or years since where I’ve seen each of my children and my nieces and nephew experience the magic for themselves. I am thankful for the memories we continue to make each year and look forward to many more years ahead. If you’re ever in Michigan come Christmastime and you want an experience that you’ll never forget, try the magic of Frankenmuth. No matter how you’re feeling or what’s going on in your world, I can almost guarantee you will leave with a smile. I did.