St. Nicholas graced Sunday’s Weihnachtsfest, or Christmas festival, for the annual celebration of the village’s German heritage, a history that dates backs to the early 1800s.
Though the first white inhabitants of Millstadt were English settlers, German settlers came to the area around 1830, according to the Millstadt Historical Society.
Today, the village continues to celebrate its heritage with the annual festival that includes traditional German food and dancing, crafts, music, and of course a visit from St. Nick.
Otto Faulbaum, chairperson of the festival, said the event is in its 23rd year.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
“It’s really about celebrating German culture,” Faulbaum said. “We try to make it as authentic German Christmas as we can.”
St. Nicholas traditionally rides in a parade on a horse, but rain and cold weather forced organizers to cancel this year’s parade. He arrived nonetheless at an alternate indoor location at the St. James Parish Hall and handed out candy canes to children.
For 15 years, Millstadt native Mark Westhoff, 73, has dressed up for the event in traditional vestments patterned in the style of the saint known for his habit of furtively handing out gifts.
“I always thought people should know what St. Nicholas looked like, or at least where figures like Santa Claus came from,” Westhoff said, especially in a town with a heavy German influence like Millstadt, he added.
Growing up, Westhoff said St. Nicholas was a major part of Christmas. He passed that on to his family, and he says his children, even in their 30s and 40s, still expect a gift from St. Nick.
Celebrating German culture is important to maintaining traditions like dance, said Renate Feibel, of Germany. She was at the festival to watch her granddaughter dance with a traditional German group organized by the German Cultural Society of St. Louis. Feibel says she has visited the festival every year for a decade.
“I like to see the dancing and the young people,” said Feibel, who now lives in St. Louis.
Holle Ritter, 10, is a dancer in the dance group for ages 9 to 13, the Mittelgruppe. She said she enjoys the group because “it’s just fun dancing.”
Proceeds from the event go toward the Sister Cities Program, which organizes an exchange program with a German city for five Millstadt teens annually, according to the program’s chairperson, Becky Watson. For more information about the exchange, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How did Millstadt get its name?
The official founding of the village of Millstadt dates back to 1837, when the first plats were established. Founders orginially called the village “Centreville” for its centered proximity to area landmarks, according to the Millstadt Historical Society. The name was rejected, however, by the U.S. Postal Service because there was another Centreville in Wabash County. Residents reportedly translated the name to the German “Mittelstadt,” and because of a misspelling or other error, officials wrote the name down as “Millstadt,” thus giving the village its signature moniker.