In one small town in the U.S. state of Michigan, it’s Christmas all year round. Christmas Wonderland bills itself as the world’s largest Christmas store. Its founder Wally Bronner had German ancestors.
Bronner's Christmas Wonderland opened in 1945 in Frankenmuth, Michigan, north of Detroit. About half its population of just under 5,000 have German ancestors. The immigrants came here from the area around Nuremberg in the mid-19th century. Today’s Frankenmuth is a largely agricultural community which still cultivates its traditions, complete with Oktoberfest, link sausages and native dress. This is "Little Bavaria" in America’s north woods - and one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions.
Now, Bronner's Christmas Wonderland covers over 8,000 square meters of floor space. Customers are given maps to find their way around. That’s big even for American standards, where both mega-shed super-stores and spectacular Christmas decorations are all but routine. Three- meter-tall Santa Clauses and a giant snowman guard the entrances. Hundreds of thousands of brightly colored lights shine inside and out, while Christmas music jingles away from opening to closing. The store runs up an average 1250-dollar (approx. 1160 euros) power bill - daily. The store is open almost every day of the year, including Christmas Day itself, December 25th.
“I can never get too much Christmas ", says Sherrie, who stands behind the information counter by the west entrance. “I have a huge collection of Christmas sweaters. But the Christmas music does get on my nerves after a while.” Over two million people pass through the store every year - a good 50,000 of them on the last weekend in November, just after the traditional Thanksgiving holiday. Customers purchase more than two million Christmas tree ornaments annually, over 12,000 kilometers of garlands and some 780 kilometers of strings of lights. Bronner's takes on over 600 employees for the peak season.
“The current bestsellers are the hummingbird ornaments. I’m always seeing them in the shopping carts," says Sherrie. There are over 6000 different Christmas tree ornaments to choose from, including models especially for nurses, armed-services veterans, baseball fans, and music and hamburger-lovers. They sport the Merry Christmas greeting in over seventy languages. And nativity scenes come in over 500 variations. In 1976, legendary western star John Wayne personally ordered a Santa Claus costume over the phone from Christmas Wonderland.
“I just wish I had a lot more money to spend here,” says Richard Maat, as he strolls up and down the thematically arranged and labeled aisles. Richard made the two-hour drive here from Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I’d like a few Christmas tree ornaments and maybe a garland for the patio.”
In the lights department, a sales clerk named Linda has just sold a customer a new string of lights. “The transition to LEDs is pretty slow,” she says. “A lot of people are still attached to their traditional light bulbs.” A new trend this year is colored lights that can be projected onto the side of the house.
The founder (1927-2008) is known to have said in an interview, “The truth is, no decorations are needed at all at Christmas. What's really needed at Christmas is that we decorate our hearts. We get so busy with all of our preparations that we forget that this is such an important time of year to stop and take time to reflect on our lives, our faith, our world.“
Christina Horsten/mm (dpa)