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Getting into the Christmas spirit

By Gary Richards • Dec 3, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Am I in the mood for Christmas? You bet I am. I have been ever since I visited a charming little town in Michigan called Frankenmuth with two friends of mine the day after Thanksgiving or Black Friday, as many Americans now refer to it. I guess I see the day after Thanksgiving, as I still refer to it, a little differently than many others do today. To me, it's the perfect opportunity to make my all-day pilgrimage to one of the most charming towns in the Midwest. And, even though it's a 3 1/2-hour drive from Norwalk, it's so worth it.

Let me explain why? 

Frankenmuth is a German-themed town located about two hours north of Toledo that celebrates Christmas 365 days a year. It simply oozes charm and it always puts me in the Christmas spirit within minutes of my arrival. It is famous for having the world's largest Christmas store, that being Bronner's. A visit to Bronner's, especially at Christmastime, is almost worth the drive from Norwalk alone. I have been visiting Bronner's most of my adult life and enjoy doing so. I like to buy unique Christmas ornaments, some with family and/or friends' names carefully written on them, ornaments that you can't find or buy anywhere else in our part of the country. The minute you walk into the store, you know that you are not in Walmart and you definitely know what the store's theme is.

But, Bronner's is certainly not the only reason to visit Frankenmuth. What I like and appreciate most about the town is its unique character and charm, as well as the quality of the products that are offered there. No chain stores or restaurants anywhere and that is precisely what makes Frankenmuth attractive to me. Having been to Germnay myself, it truly does look like a small Bavarian town located right in the heart of Michigan without the mountains of course. The town's architecture is German inspired and it even has its own two-story outdoor cuckoo clock with animated characters that come out of the clock every hour on the hour. Kids and adults alike line up to watch this hourly event and so do I whenever I visit Frankenmuth.

Frankenmuth is also famous for its two German restaurants that feature chicken dinners as their specialty. The most famous of the two is the historic Bavarian Inn, which also has the iconic cuckoo clock attached to it. It is a must for me whenever I am in town. Not only is the food delicious, but the atmosphere is old world as well. I can not resist having my or my group's picture taken with the waiters and waitresses who are dressed in full German attire. My plan is to always leave Norwalk at around 8 a.m. and to arrive in Frankenmuth at approximately 11:30 am and to head directly to the Bavarian Inn for an early and much-anticipated lunch.

After our delicious lunch, my friends and I visited too many cool, unique and interesting shops and outdoor markets to mention, but the shop that is famous for its dozens of wonderfully flavored cheeses was one of our favorites and has been one of mine for years. We spent plenty of time enjoying free samples of cheese and cheese spreads. And, a trip to Frankenmuth is not complete without a visit to one of its many fudge shops. My good friend from Milan, who did not go with us, actually gave me money in advance just so I could buy her a pound of her favorite chocolate fudge there. Now that speaks volumes doesn’t it?

At night, Frankenmuth becomes an illuminated fantasy of beautifully lit nativity scenes, decorated trees, elegant storefronts, and supersized ornaments, candy canes and packages that are placed along the sidewalks and in the town's parks and green spaces. These lights and decorations are a feast for the eyes. And, for those college football fans out there like me, visiting Frankenmuth on the day before the huge OSU-Michigan game always makes things very interesting, fun and colorful as well.

As I drove away from Frankenmuth with my friends that evening, I couldn't help but take one last look at the thousands of dazzling and twinkling Christmas lights of gold, green, red, white — go Bucks — and “Blue” hat make Frankenmuth so magical and memorable. OK, maybe I'm just being polite about the blue, but it is Christmas season and it always pays to be nice this time of year. So, I hope to see many of you in Frankenmuth next year on the day after Thanksgiving. At least that is my plan for next year anyway, God willing of course. In the meantime, I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Gary Richards is a Norwalk resident.

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