Who would have guessed that the little sign shop in Frankenmuth that opened in 1945 would eventually become one of the top ten man-made attractions in Michigan? Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland now draws over two million visitors annually, arriving from across the nation and around the world!
In 1943, young Wally Bronner began painting signs after school in his parents' basement, but he marked his official start two years later, after he graduated. During the next several years he developed his business skills, including doing window displays for local merchants. In 1951, he successfully took on the challenge of designing and creating the Christmas decorations for the community lampposts … and the rest of the story reads like a holiday "legend"!
That same year, Wally married his wife Irene. By the time he and Irene constructed their first building in 1954, they were definitely in the spirit of Christmas – half of their sign shop was dedicated to Christmas decorations! After successively outgrowing three buildings, in 1977 the company moved to a 45-acre tract of land where the current Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland stands.
That original "spirit of Christmas" kept expanding and now fills the world's largest Christmas store, covering almost two football fields! Shoppers enjoy 350 Christmas trees decorated in religious, traditional and toyland themes, showcasing over 6,000 types of ornaments. Many items are exclusive Bronner designs. Over 500 different nativities and 50,000 trims and gifts are displayed. Outside stands the picturesque Silent Night Memorial Chapel, a full-size replica of the one in Austria built on the site of the church where "Silent Night" was first sung in 1818. All of this is showcased with year-round lighted Christmas displays throughout the grounds!
Wally's Hobby And Passion
What started as a business for Wally Bronner became his passion. He celebrated his 80th birthday with a 10-hour workday at the store, spent greeting guests! He often joked that he never worked, "Retirement is for people who work so they can devote their time to their hobby," he liked to say. "I started with my hobby!"
To say that Wally Bronner was successful in business is an understatement. His company is a Michigan landmark that is known internationally. Wally was also generous. He and Irene established a foundation in 1966 that continues to reach the goals of relieving poverty and distress and advancing education and Christianity. Through that foundation they have touched thousands of lives.
But Wally's greatest achievement was encouraging others to know his incomparable friend, Jesus Christ, who had given Wally's life its true meaning and purpose. It's the relationship Wally built his business around and the Person whom he always honored with those capitals in CHRISTmas.
Why The "CHRIST" in CHRISTmas
Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland was the outer focus of Wally's life, but Christ was the inner one. Through the years millions of tracts like this one were given to customers and visitors. Each contained the offer for the ultimate gift that only God can give. That gift changed Wally's life so dramatically that he loved to share it with others.
That good news of Christmas is this: Jesus Christ, God's own Son, came from heaven to be supernaturally born that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago. God's love showed through the gift of his Son, as the Bible says: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16a)
Christ lived a sinless life, then after three years of public ministry, he was crucified on a cross by his enemies! That exactly fit into God's plan, since Jesus had come to earth to take the punishment for our sins. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).
Jesus' substitution for us was the only way God could be perfectly just in extending forgivingness to sinners: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Because the sinless Christ died for our sins, "whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16b). When Christ rose from the grave after three days, he proved our sin debt had been paid in full.
God simply requires that we agree with him about our sinful situation and place our absolute trust in Jesus Christ as the only one who can save us from sin's consequences. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Wally had accepted that ultimate gift – salvation through belief in Christ. That relationship dramatically shaped his life! He would have liked nothing better than to know you have joined him in receiving that same gift.
Wally's Final Wish
Always a man with a big smile and a quick wit, Wally quipped near the end of his life that he was preparing to go to heaven "to make sure the decorative touches are in place!" However, he knew that everything would be in order for his arrival when his battle with cancer ended on April 1, 2008.
Just days before, on Good Friday, he wrote these words: "Today's Good Friday was an especially GOOD FRIDAY when our dear family in prayer agreed to the reality that our loving Lord and Savior – the CHRIST of CHRISTmas – is ready to receive me into his heavenly kingdom where all believers in the Creator God will be with him FOREVER AND EVER … NOTHING COULD BE GREATER!"
That sums up the source of joy for the man who always spelled Christmas, "CHRISTmas." He never wanted his Savior to be hidden by the holiday's celebration and decorations. Wally Bronner celebrated CHRISTmas year-round, but his greatest joy was knowing Christ year-round and helping others know Christ, too. We hope you share in the same relationship Wally had with the Christ of CHRISTmas.