A Christmas Town
By Christie Bierlein
The Holiday season is about so much more than the hustle and bustle we’re all familiar with. It’s the time of year where generations of family gather together making sugar cookies to leave for Santa when he arrives, alongside a glass of milk. It’s when parents slow down to spend time with their children cuddled on the couch in new Christmas pajamas reading The Night Before Christmas. It’s the time of year where family traditions turn into memories.
Named one of the Best Christmas Towns in America by Country Living Magazine and located just 90 miles north of Detroit is a place that is all about family traditions. While the quaint German town of Frankenmuth, Michigan has only 5,000 permanent residents, it welcomes more than three million visitors each year.
Deemed Michigan’s Little Bavaria (for good reason), this small town totes the tagline, “Built on Tradition. Made for Memories.” And a visit to Frankenmuth during the holiday season is guaranteed to create lifelong memories. The intricate German architecture, boutique lined streets, jingling horse drawn carriages, and of course, Chicken and Christmas, all make for the perfect tradition filled trip.
Frankenmuth is home to two of the largest independently-owned restaurants in the country, Bavarian Inn Restaurant and Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, which are located directly across the street from one another. Together, these two family-owned establishments serve over one million all you can eat family-style chicken dinners per year and can seat over 3,000 guests at once. The chicken alone draws visitors from all over the world, hence the “world-famous” part, but many come to make a meal of just the sides.
The original farm-to-table meal started for the Zehnder family in Frankenmuth back in 1934 with the goal of sourcing fresh food from local farms and growers to the community. That tradition remains intact today with mouthwatering seasonal sides like blue hubbard squash. Each year, the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s restaurants work with local farmers to pick and transport more than 250,000 pounds of squash each season. Due to the size, the squash lives just outside the restaurants from October until they run out.
The staples of a traditional Frankenmuth chicken dinner consist of buttered noodles, spaetzle, mashed potatoes, homemade toasts, jams and much, much more. At Christmas time, your visit to both of these restaurants is made more memorable when surrounded by expertly crafted holiday displays, detailed decorations, and twinkling lights around every corner.
When traveling into Frankenmuth from the South (Exit 136 off of I-75), visitors are welcomed with the cheeriest of greetings. After passing under the Palmer Frankenmuth Gateway Arch illuminated with the word “Willkommen,” Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store, sits on the curve of M-83, lit up like a Christmas tree. An attraction in itself, Bronner’s sprawls across five football fields; the showroom alone is the size of 1.7 football fields. There is no “running into Bronner’s for a quick item.” With more than 50,000 trims and gifts, it’s easy to lose track of time exploring the massive showroom, which even has its own map.
Personalized ornaments are one of the most popular items and are available in an assortment of festive holiday colors and styles. In fact, they personalize over 400,000 ornaments each year. If there’s a unique ornament you’re searching for, Bronner’s likely has it, from favorite sports teams to strips of bacon and everything in between. Make sure to visit after dark to cruise down Christmas Lane, a pathway decorated to the nines with lighted displays and decorations. Greeting over two million visitors annually, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland is always ready to make the season bright, no matter what time of year.
No holiday trip to Frankenmuth is complete without stopping at the Silent Night Memorial Chapel, located on the south end of Bronner’s property. This ornate building is a 56-foot tall, exact replica of the chapel in Oberndorf, Austria where the hymn “Silent Night” was first sung in 1818. The chapel is open daily, free to enter, and displays the famous hymn on signs lining the walkway in over 300 languages!
Being home to the world’s largest Christmas store is an honor Frankenmuth doesn’t take lightly. From mid-November through Christmas, dazzling light displays and Christmas music fill the air while hotels, shops, attractions, and restaurants roll out the red carpet for holiday season enthusiasts.
If Frankenmuth is starting to sound a bit like a classic Hallmark Christmas movie, that would be a very accurate description.
In fact, a Christmas movie WAS filmed in Frankenmuth in 2019. “A Christmas Movie Christmas” released in 2019 on the UP Network with the majority of the filming happening right in downtown Frankenmuth.
Whether you enjoy the simple joys of the holidays like a cup of hot chocolate by a cozy, roaring fireplace, or the excitement of dazzling light displays and visiting with Santa, Frankenmuth has all of this and more. Find a booth to snuggle up in at a wine bar and watch the magic unfold on Main Street, or peruse dozens of sweet treats like toffee and fudge at a confectionery. However you choose to spend your visit, Frankenmuth is sure to delight visitors young and young at heart during the festive holiday season in Michigan.
Frankenmuth, Michigan Holiday