Every year is a Brown Christmas

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree
PHOTO: frankieleon, Flickr CC-BY
Aaron J. Brown

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

I often tell people from outside Minnesota that the snow and cold don’t really become unpleasant until after Christmas. Everything before then is a crisp, cool puff of snowy magic. 

But here along the Mesabi Iron Range we’ve received very little snow this month. As we approach Christmas Day we might have a brown Christmas.

That’s OK. Every year is a Brown Christmas in my family. Ha! But seriously, it’s pretty weird not to have much snow for Christmas in a place where elves could conceivably commute to Santa’s Workshop.

And it’s upsetting to experience another holiday altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

People seem at their wits end with the coronavirus. Schools. Small businesses. Family gatherings. The New York Times emblazoned Hibbing in red ink on its front page to signify the Range Regional Medical Center’s full ICU two weeks ago. So much sacrifice and suffering, doled out without a modicum of fairness. It’s almost as if this is a very bad thing. 

Well, it is. 300,000 dead and counting. Inconsistent policies and widespread misinformation. We don’t yet understand the trauma that’s been imposed upon families and health care professionals by this world-changing event. Nor do we understand the long term effects of the disease. All we have is hope and the promise of a vaccine that races against time these next few months.

But my wife and I chose to approach the holiday situation differently. We’re trying to overwhelm disappointment with gratitude. There is a purpose to all this, even if we might not understand it. And that means we do the best we can with what we have.

This is also a time for memory to sustain us. When we lose a loved one, their absence never comforts us; only their memory. Big holidays like Christmas or New Year’s provide perfectly indexed memories for us to recall.

There was the year my Grandma Johnson told me, “Eat your peas or I’m taking back the GoBot Command Center!” (She was kidding, but I was 7 and ate every pea). 

Another year Santa Claus walked right into our Christmas Eve gathering on my dad’s side. No one expected him. It turns out he was lost and late for a party. In his famous red suit and hat, he ho-ho-hoed his way through the crowd of young children to get to the table where the grown-ups sat so he could ask directions. Santa wore the signature boots of an Iron Range taconite miner and drove off in a small sedan with a questionable muffler. 

Now that my boys are teenagers I’m starting to remember things I took for granted. Like the warmth of their soft flannel pajamas when they sat on my lap to read their new books. Squiggly little ones, wracked with excitement. 

And of course I remember sledding down the 9th hole approach of the Eveleth Municipal Golf Course every Christmas Eve, both as a child and with my own children. In fact, this year’s lack of snow may have cancelled that anyway.

If memory alone isn’t enough to sustain us, then we can always make new memories. Last week my family made Christmas graham cracker houses, resuming a tradition we had given up the previous year. Three teenagers and two adults, all jaded by 2020, nevertheless enjoyed a wonderful time together.

Phones and computers wrecked a lot of family gatherings in recent years, but this year they connect us when we can’t gather. The touch and togetherness of family might not be available to all of us this week, but it will return to us soon. Even sooner if we shoulder the burden together. 

It is a brown Christmas, dreary and drab if that’s how you see it. But the deer grow fat on late season grass. Wild ice turns every lake into a perfect skating rink. Those with less can keep their house warmer, longer. And life, precious life, goes on. 

A happy holiday season to you all.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. David Kannas says

    A brown Christmas in Balsam? Sad indeed. I grew up less than a mile from where you now live. Ever Christmas the ground had its more than ample crop of snow. When we left grandpa and grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve after a dinner that included lutefisk, then opened presents, the northern lights provided a light show as we walked to the cold car. It was always at least ten below. I’ll always remember Balsam like that on Christmas. But I noted that it was six below in Grand Rapids this morning. There’s always that to look forward to.

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