Even though we generally take Christmas down on New Year’s day, I am often reluctant to leave the Christmas mode. This year, we decided to extend Christmas with an outing to Bronner’s Christmas store in Frankenmuth, Michigan during the week between Christmas and New Years.
Established by Wally Bronner in 1945, Bronner’s is ayear-round Christmas store. An American success story, Bronner started modestly than steadily grew to a mega-successful enterprise touted as the world’s largest Christmas store, drawing over 2 million visitors annually to the Frankenmuth area.
Our primary intent was to enjoy a Christmas outing together but I was also on the lookout for an angel figurine for our outside Christmas decorations. My inspiration is two grapevine angel figures that are part of our church’s Christmas display. My idea is to buy or make a similar angel and wrap it with lights to herald the Savior during both day and night-time.
Not only does Bronner’s offer an extensive array of Christmas merchandise, it also designs and manufactures Christmas materials, displays and ornaments. As a Christmas ornament-hobbyist, I am particularly drawn to Christmas ornaments in general and gospel-themed ornaments in particular.
Notably Wally Bronner, a devout believer in Christ, pulled off a merchandising miracle to achieve mega commercial success with Bronner’s while also keeping Christ front and center in his prolific advertising and throughout the store itself. Greeting visitors near each store entrance is a prominent wall sign picturing Santa Claus kneeling at Jesus’ manger captioned with the “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow” Philippians 2:10.
While Bronner’s commitment to the Lord inspires, his commercial success is most due to keying on customer’s desires for celebrating Christmas. Christmas today is most about what each celebrating family decides to make Christmas most about.
Credit Bronner for zeroing so effectively on the “most abouts” of its vast customer base. Shoppers with no interest whatsoever in the messianic “back story” of Christmas can find everything they need at Bronner’s. Truly, the business of Christmas can flourish apart from the greater mission the holiday’s namesake came to planet earth to share and do.
While for Wally Bronner, Christmas is most about his Savior, he fashioned a Christmas business that also catered to people preferring a Christmas without Christ. Not only did he seem O.K. with doing that but he achieved significant commercial success that way. While Bronner’s both/and approach may seem like a watering down of his faith, I offer him as an exemplary “Messianic Merchandiser.”
I never met the man but its clear to me he viewed Christmas and Christ as inseparable. To promote Christmas in any way is to also promote Christ. Note the company’s signage and motto since 1977, “BRONNER’S CHRISTmas WONDERLAND.”
His company name merely capitalizes on “Christ” comprising the first six letters of the word, “Christmas.” A coincidence or something else?
After 63 years at his company’s helm during which he became fondly known as “Mr. Christmas,” Wally Bronner handed the business off to his son Wayne in 1998. He remained chairman of the company’s board of directors until his death in 2008 at age 81.
I found a few angel candidates at Bronner’s but the ones I liked most were a bit over my budget. I was only mildly surprised to also not find much merchandise with what I would call a “gospel-theme” regarding Jesus’ underlying mission to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “Religious-themed” decorations were generally creche scenes, stars, angels, some bulbs with Bible verses, and a sprinkling of crosses and country church figures.
I did however find something very valuable at Bronner’s – inspiration for living out the gospel in any manner that can draw unbelieving people near to me and other believers. While Christians, like Christmas itself, may not always act or seem Christlike, we and our Savior are in fact inseparable (See Romans 8:38-39). By virtue of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, others in our vicinity are susceptible to being exposed to Christ and his life-restoring gospel.
I am no Wally Bronner but his Christlikeness can be an example for me in this new year as I give myself over to the Spirit at work in me in the hope that someone near me may “catch” some of God’s goodness from me.