Pancho Claus, the Tex-Mex Santa

Pancho Claus

Image courtesy of Nuestro Stories.

Who is Pancho Claus? He is a Tex-Mex from the South Pole who runs around in a low-rider draped in a Mexican flag, a motorcycle, or led by a pack of burros and not reindeer. 

Pancho Claus wears a sombrero, a serape (poncho), or a black and red zoot suit. He usually has black hair and a beard and comes in through the bathroom window, not a chimney. 

The Tex-Mex Santa grew out of the Chicano civil rights movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In an interview with the Associated Press, Mexican-American historian Lorenzo Cano said that the Tex-Mex Santa was born north of the border as Mexican-Americans looked to “build a place and a space for themselves” in the 1970s.

Reinterpreting traditions 

The name and character of Pancho Claus came out of a 1956 song by Lalo Guerrero – known as “the father of Chicano music.” He released a song called “Pancho Claus,” a funny parody of the classic “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

The lyrics went like this: “Twas the Night before Christmas and all through the casa/ Mamá she was busy preparing the masa.” Little did Guerrero know it would inspire a beloved Christmas character.

Pancho Claus and the spirit of giving back 

Today, Pancho Claus is a must in many Texan cities, bringing joy and toys to underprivileged children. 

In Texas’s Bayou City, Pancho Claus is Richard Reyes, who for more than 40 years has brought joy and toys to the area’s children.

What Pancho Claus wants is to spread good cheer. Asked about his character in an interview, Reyes explained:

“People ask me all the time, is there a Santa Claus?” Reyes said. “I’m like, yes, he’s my primo. He’s my cousin. We call him (the white guy).”

Reyes became Pancho Claus in the early 1980s. He was interested in theater and finding out more about his Hispanic heritage. Pancho also wanted to work with at-risk, low-income children. 

His sister’s death due to a drive-by shooting drove his desire to work with children from underprivileged backgrounds, and in Pancho, he found the perfect character. 

Reyes made Pancho his own - instead of a red suit and a white beard, he dons a red and black zoot suit and a fedora hat. His catchphrase is “Feliz Navidad todos; if you have one, I’ll ride.” He celebrates by giving out hundreds of toys and having a big party for families on Christmas Eve. 

But there are Pancho Claus all over Texas with their distinctive take on the season and the character. 

About 200 miles from Reyes, there is another Pancho Claus - but this one wears a sarape and a sombrero. He poses before The Alamo and carries his gifts around in a cart pulled by burros. Forget Rudolph - the head donkey’s name is “Chuy.” 

I so wish Pancho Claus would make trips outside of Texas! ¡Felicidades a todos!

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