If you happen to feel any attachment to the idea of traditional Christmas you should stay as far away from Frankenmuth, MI as you can manage. And you should probably stop reading now. I have precious few Christmas illusions left and I still feel that the place consumed a piece of my soul.
Christmas is of course important. Very important. For the economy. If not for all the presents that need to be bought and returned in December and January respectively, we would have to close most of the retail outlets. And I like the shops. Not so much shopping but just the idea that there are people willing to engage in this sport. They make for a nice background to otherwise dreary December days. Also, I don’t mind fancy lighting. So if you have any warm feelings associated with Christmas it would be in my best interest, if you found something else to read just about now.
Frankenmuth, MI - a self-proclaimed capital of Michigan’s Little Bavaria - has all the trappings of a dreaded tourist destination. Its claim to fame are all things vaguely German, which apparently includes scary sounding all you can eat chicken dinners. If you manage to survive one of those, you can stop by Cheese Haus proudly announcing that none of the cheeses it sells are actually made in the area. Despite some of them being called Frankenmuth cheese.
All those attractions pale however next to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland - the world’s largest christmas store. I have absolutely no intention to doubt that claim. If there is any larger Christmas store out there, my apologies. And my condolences.
The Bronner’s empire is certainly impressive. Multinational, multilingual, multicultural place full of unspeakably kitschy bling. It’s beyond me why on Earth anyone would feel the need to decorate the tree with little imitations of cellular phones but apparently someone is doing just that. You can buy enough plastic IPhones and glass Androids to cover your Christmas tree. Other home appliances are prominently featured as well. You can hang miniature toasters, washing machines, TVs, stereos. You can hang a glass copy of your car, your bike or your motorcycle. If you are so inclined you can find your dog (they are displayed ordered alphabetically by breed) molded into a figurine and hang it too. Along with your cat, your fish and your hamster. You can also hang your family members, that is ornaments representing them. Or so I hope.
Every sport, profession, hobby, interest has its own display case with its own ornaments. Every concept and an idea from the real life has its analogue in this glassy caricature blown up and prepared to be used as decoration. No sane human can actually sort through it all, but I am sure that if you find an ornament that they don’t have, they will make it for you.
And in case you cannot find anything worth hanging you are encouraged to come up with a witty and uplifting phrase to personalize a selection of blank ornaments. But every possible phrase worth using is probably used somewhere already and hanged in a giant display of blinking glass.
When you load up on ornaments you need to find a tree worth decorating. There is a forest of them - bigger then real ones in some states - in one section of the store. In every possible hight and girth. Also - what I found more surprising - in every possible color. So if you want a pink tree this year, this is your chance. Also yellow. And neon blue. And it doesn’t even have to be a conifer look-alike tree. You can have a palm if that’s your thing.
And trees and ornaments are just the beginning: there is no shortage of angels, jesuses in every shape, age and form and plentiful saint marys. For less religiously inclined there are also civil figurines inhabiting little snowy towns and smilingly enjoying the season. And don’t even get me started on santas. The biggest is kept outside, several stories high and scaring kids away. Next to a life size nativity scene.
Even the restrooms are christmasy: you are not actually expected to pee under the tree, but the mirrors have opulent golden frames and cheerful music penetrates the stalls.
And the store is packed. No sign of
recession economic slowdown here. Despite the fact that we still have October people are not just browsing but also buying pretty much everything in sight. This is not a bargain place either. Glass cellphone is cheaper than the real thing but not by much.
I am not trying to be a grinch here. I’m all for the idea of celebrating the winter solstice under whatever pretext your personal views make you celebrate it. And I am not above enjoying music, food, drink and presents. Especially presents. But this place has as much to do with Christmas as all you can eat chicken dinner with Bavarian food. And just like the all you can it food it makes one slightly sick.