The year Santa came early on the Iron Range

Santa Claus

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Every Christmas I’ve known occurred in the same place, in pretty much the same way. We spend Christmas Eve south of Eveleth with the Browns. Christmas is in Keewatin with the Johnsons. It’s been this way since before I can remember, all through childhood and long after I left home and got married. When my wife and I had children of our own we never considered changing things. It just went on this way.

Sure, other details have changed. My immediate family moved around the Iron Range over the years. Specific traditions have sprouted up as the kids came along. There was the one year Christmas Eve got snowed out. We’re going to try having Christmas at a community hall this year, so a slight change of venue even if the characters remain the same. But all these Christmas Eves and Christmases seem less like 60-some distinct events and more like one long Christmas that caused everyone I know to age rapidly.

So today I’m going to point out the one Christmas occasion that stands out like a certain reindeer’s red nose in a snowstorm. It was a Christmas Eve with my dad’s side near Eveleth. And sure, I was an adult at the time, but the story still manages to fill me with a childlike wonder. It was the year Santa Claus came early.

Christmas Eve was in its full glory. Most in attendance had eaten enough cheese to increase resting heart rates without anything vaguely resembling physical activity. Several had drank too much under the mistaken belief they had drank too little. We were settling in. The pleasantries were over, as was the meal. The stage was set for the pie and the presents, taut anticipation for all ages.

There was a commotion down by the door of my grandparent’s split entry home. The dogs started barking. Some of the younger cousins (and various other children of uncertain origin) started cheering and jumping up and down. The voice we heard was unmistakable.

“Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!”

It was Santa Claus. Now, let’s be straight. This was not a fake Santa that we hired. Nor was it my grandma’s brother Tubby, the junkyard inventory specialist who portrayed Santa when I was younger. This was not a known Santa, nor was this part of the normal Christmas Eve choreography.

Legend has it Santa is a jolly old elf, a short fat fellow with rosy cheeks. I can clear this up. Santa stands a good 6’2″ and, while he has a pronounced belly, he’s no fatter than most Iron Range men born after WWII. His steel toed boots and safety glasses are a bit less decorative than folk art would suggest.

Santa clomped up the stairs and worked the crowd. The kids tensed with excitement, the adults with general confusion. “Did we arrange for this?” “Who is this?” And finally, the surprise brought some of us to the final question: “It couldn’t be? Santa? For real?”

Santa wound his way through the living room, reminding the kids that he would visit their houses later that night. He scanned the room and saw my grandpa sitting in the corner of the dining room.

“Ho Ho Ho!” he continued, charting a direct line to our patriarch. The pair exchanged some soft words, ending with a firm yuletide handshake before Santa jiggled out the same way he came.

“Nice boots, Santa,” my grandma said.

“Issued by LTV Steel,” Santa replied.

We could hear the eight reindeer-power engine of his older four-door sedan fire up outside, before Santa motored his way down the road. The kids were in a tizzy; nothing could be more exciting. Silently, the rest of us looked at grandpa.

“Directions,” he said. “Santa needed directions.”

The directions must have been good enough, because that night the sleigh did ride, and Santa made his appointed rounds just in time, the way he always does.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this story was told in the Dec. 14, 2013 Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (



  1. mike simpkins says

    Great story.

  2. Fun fact: The title of this column is also the title of an adult film I saw once. It was excellent.

  3. Fun Fact, I see Paul Ryan has returned to Minnesota with his trademark wit. And you’re wrong … it was called “The Year Santa Came Often.” I checked to make sure there weren’t any copyright violations.

  4. Excellent story!

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