A Charlie Brow Christmas 2.0

Bringing back memories of a dad who made Santa Claus real


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A 37-year-old woman from Transcona who said she was the daughter of Santa Claus contacted me last week hoping I could find a Christmas Eve column that's almost as old as she is.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/12/2015 (2424 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A 37-year-old woman from Transcona who said she was the daughter of Santa Claus contacted me last week hoping I could find a Christmas Eve column that’s almost as old as she is.

The column once hung framed in her dad’s home. Her dad, a railway worker named Charlie Brow, spent 30 years dressing as Santa for his own kids and others. And now his daughter, Teri Shellenberg, was hoping I could find the story about what her dad did one special Christmas Eve in 1982. Which I did. And since this is Christmas Eve, I thought you might enjoy reading it, too. It was titled A Charlie Brow Christmas. It started with a question.

— — —

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Charlie Brow, dressed as Santa with grandkids, nieces and nephews circa 2007.

“Did you have a good Christmas?” someone asked when I got back to work.

A good Christmas? Well, since you asked… yes. And no. It ended up to be a very special Christmas but, as I was saying last week, it didn’t start off that well. Erin kind of spoiled it by telling her mother that, at five years old, she had decided there was no Santa Claus. Oh well, little Ian still thought there was a Santa. It was late — about 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve — when the magic started. Ian was tucked in bed, visions of Tonka trucks dancing in his head. But Erin was still awake and I was just sliding her under the quilt and settling down to read her Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when…

Erin and I heard bells.

Teri Shellenberg holds Santa gear -- bells and a belt -- that bring back memories of her father, Charlie Brow.

It was only the downstairs phone. Erin’s Aunt Susie, answered it.

There was a pause, then Aunt Susie’s voice. “It’s Santa.” SANTA?

I scooped up Erin — who was suddenly doing an awful lot of twitching and giggling for a nonbeliever — and we whooshed down the stairs.

Sure enough, Santa was on the phone. He sounded younger than I had imagined. Santa said he had read the story about Erin not believing in him and he wanted to drop around in an hour and see her. An hour is a long time to wait at bedtime, but the North Pole is a long way from Winnipeg.

Oh, Santa wasn’t at the North Pole. He was where? Transcona?

That’s still a long way from Winnipeg. Wait a minute. “Santa Claus visits Transcona, too?

At that point I put Erin on the phone but she didn’t know what to say. So she giggled and he ho-ho-hoed and I said see you later Santa.

While we were waiting, I thought it would be best if Erin got some sleep so I tucked her in and promised to wake her when Santa arrived.

As for me, I drove over to have a Christmas Eve drink with friends who live a couple of blocks away.

About an hour and two tall rye and gingers later, Aunt Susie called.

“You better get your sleigh over here right now, Santa’s in a hurry.”

In the twinkling of a bloodshot eye, I was pulling up outside the house where, parked in the driveway, was a sleigh imaginatively disguised as a 1977 Chrysler with 440 reindeer hidden under the hood. Santa was standing in the dining room when I walked in. The first thing he did was ask how to get from St. James to his next stop, Fort Garry. I guess Rudolph wasn’t one of the 440 reindeer under the hood.

Anyway, I gave Santa directions.

Then we sneaked upstairs to Erin’s bedroom and turned on the light.

Erin was so sound asleep she hadn’t even heard Santa’s sleigh bells ringing when he walked in the front door.

“Erin, Erin,” I said, softly shaking her, “Santa’s here.”


The Jolly Old Elf was sitting beside her on the bed now.

“Erin, it’s Santa,” he said.

Finally, I propped her up and her lids opened.

“Give Santa a kiss,” I said. Erin leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek.

Then Santa reached into his sack and out came two packs of candies. One for Erin and one for Ian. And one big gift for both of them. Then he went ho-ho-hoing down stairs.

Erin fell back to sleep without even opening her gift from Santa.

Next morning, I could hardly wait to see what Erin would say. Well, I asked her, do you believe in Santa Claus now?

“Daddy,” she said, “I don’t think I remember him.”

It was much later that day when Erin beckoned me from the kitchen.

“Shut your eyes, daddy,” she said taking me by the hand and leading me over to the front door.

And there, slung over the doorknob, were eight tiny bells attached to an old leather belt. In his hurry to get to his next stop in Fort Garry, Santa had forgotten his hand bells. This time, I didn’t have to ask Erin if she believed in Santa. All I had to do was silently thank a CPR switchman named Charlie Brow — with no “n”.

You’re a good man, Charlie Brow.

— — —

So what happened to Charlie Brow? Teri said in recent years her father became a follower of the Living Church of God, a Christian organization that doesn’t believe in Christmas. So her dad tossed the Santa suit and the framed column. All that survives are some photos of her dad playing Santa. Which is why Teri wanted a copy of the story, so she could pass it down to her children. He’s still that caring, sharing person, Teri said. He just doesn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. Regardless, I need to say one more time. You’re still a good man, Charlie Brow. And thanks for that special Charlie Brow Christmas Eve.



Updated on Thursday, December 24, 2015 5:59 AM CST: Replaces photo

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