Parade to honor American St. Nick

American Legion Post, re-enactors to play out the story of World War II soldiers in Luxembourg
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press Staff

The annual holiday festivities in Belgium this year are going to be more robust than in the past and will re-enact a heartwarming story of American St. Nick in Luxembourg in 1944.

The Melvin Wester American Legion Post 412 discussed the idea, inspired by a program at Port Washington High School about the story a couple of years ago. This year, in conjunction with the Belgium Area Chamber of Commerce, they decided to commemorate the event, one year before its 75th anniversary.

Bill May, the legion’s finance officer and an Air Force veteran, led the effort. He had gone to Luxembourg last year to reclaim his citizenship and visited a memorial in the Town of Wiltz honoring the American St. Nick.

Legion members knew the story and wanted to pay tribute to their heritage since Belgium is filled with Luxembourg descendants and pass the tale to children in the village.

In fall 1944, after driving the Nazis out of Wiltz, battle-hardened American soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division Signal Corps were resting when Cpl. Harry Stutz thought they should hold a party for St. Nicholas Day.

Children in the town hadn’t celebrated the holiday for years under Nazi occupation. Some had never seen St. Nick.

Stutz talked his friend, Cpl. Richard Brookins, into being St. Nick. On Dec. 5, the day before St. Nick was to arrive, Brookins borrowed clothes from a local Catholic priest. He wore a long cape and bishop’s miter, and rope was used to make a lengthy white beard.

Soldiers, many of whom could speak Luxembourgish, were asked to donate candy from their rations, which nuns helped distribute to children. Soldiers’ chocolate was melted to make hot cocoa, and cooks made doughnuts and cakes.

Two little girls dressed as angels and accompanied Brookins as he was driven through town on a jeep. His visit with children was warmly welcomed in a war-torn town.

Much of Wiltz was later destroyed in the Battle of the Bulge, after which it was liberated again.

The town tried to find who played St. Nick for decades, finally reaching Brookins in 1977. He went back to Wiltz a few times to be honored and recreate his role. He died Oct. 11 at 96 years old.

 The story gained more notoriety thanks to the 2003 book “The American St. Nick” by Peter Lion and a 2015 movie of the same name.

“It’s probably one of the most heartwarming stories I’ve ever seen of Christmas in a combat theater and it is an absolute tribute to the statesmanship of Americans around the world. We’ve always tried to make the holidays better where we’re at,” Assistant Sgt. at Arms Chris Kissinger said.

On Saturday, the Legion will be using a jeep from World War II to ride in the parade to recreate the scene. GIs on foot will hand out candy to children. Re-enactors from across Wisconsin and Illinois are coming to participate.

“Our goal is that this year we build enough understanding and we’ll probably do something at the Luxembourg festival for the community (in summer) to re-enforce it so that next year at the 75th anniversary we can make it as authentic as possible,” May said.

The parade begins at 4:30 p.m. on the corner of West Lane and Main Street. It heads west before turning north onto Dean Road, then goes east onto Grand Avenue to the Village Square, where a host of other holiday festivities will be held.

Parking will not be allowed on the parade route.

A European market will run until 7 p.m., which includes free hot chocolate courtesy of Harrington Beach State Park and free Jolly Good soda and hay wagon rides.

St. Nick will visit with children inside Village Hall and give them boxemannercher, a sweet bread in the shape of a gingerbread man traditionally given in Luxembourg on St. Nick’s Day.

Belgium Community Church and Cedar Grove-Belgium Girl Scouts will provide activities for children inside and outside Village Hall and there will be a contest for children to find pickle ornaments hidden throughout the market.

The Luxembourg American Cultural Center will offer free admission during the event with shopping inside and food for purchase from the newly opened Kyotes Bar and Grill and food trucks Blue Cow Creperie and Cupcake-A-Rhee.

Holiday music will be provided by the Wisconsin Dickens Carolers from 5 to 6 p.m. and from Cedar Grove-Belgium band and choir students from 6 to 7 p.m.

New this year is a Luxembourg beer and wine garden, offering beverages for purchase, including hard cider and a hot Ramborn mulled cider, a drink made with a variety of traditional Luxembourg apples.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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