GI St Nick returns to Luxembourg, 70 years on
By Anastasia Konstain
Thanks to the benevolent actions of a 22-year-old WWII soldier, what started as a spontaneous decision to bring a bit of cheer to the small town of Wiltz, has now become a tradition celebrated yearly.
Sunday saw Richard W. Brookins, now 92, also known fondly as the ‘American St Nick,’ attend the annual St Nicholas march in Wiltz to the delight of inhabitants in the north-west of Luxembourg.
“Way back, 70 years ago this week, we were located uptown here, and we found that the children were very happy to be liberated but they had nothing for St Nicholas day. So somebody said ‘Why don’t we have a party for the kids?’” Richard Brookins told wort.lu, recalling one of the coldest days Luxembourg has ever had in December 1944.
“So getting ready for that, which we did, they needed to have a St Nicholas. And I’m so perfect, that I got selected.” Richard joked. “I became St Nicholas, and I’m the luckiest man alive.”
“This is like coming home.” he continued, smiling at the devoted attention he was receiving from familiar faces. “I know so many people here and even those I don’t know, know who I am, and I feel very comfortable, very happy.”
“I first discovered the story about 15 years ago through Richard Brookins’ son, who told me the story.” Peter Lion, author of The American St Nick, said, “I was so amazed by what he had told me, I said to him ‘Someone should write a story about this. This is an amazing story. Give me your father's phone number, I’m gonna talk to him.’ And that’s how it started.”
And the fact how unique this tradition is wasn’t lost on anyone, as Peter continued to explain.
“The specialness lies here in Wiltz because he (Richard) and the other soldiers played such an important role back in 1944, although they didn’t realise it then. And as the years went on it became more and more important to this town to remember what these soldiers had done.”
Triny Glesener-Muller and Vicky Cornette, some of the first children to have received sweets from the ‘American St Nick’ 70 years ago, were also in attendance.
“No-one else wanted to do it, so he went in a Jeep and drove through the streets of Wiltz.” Triny recalled.
Vicky Cornette also mentioned how much dedication was put into that first event. “The nuns prepared the white robe for St Nicholas and the bags for the candy, while soldiers donated the chocolates and sweets. The distribution took place in the castle.”
“We are so thankful he took the voyage to come here.” Triny added.
It’s clear to see how much love and appreciation one man inspired all those years ago. And thanks to his gesture of joy that cold and dreary day in December 1944, a small town by the name of Wiltz has never forgotten the story of our American St Nick.
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