Pancho Claus: The Tex-Mex Santa with a Lowrider

Sofia Jones
 | noviembre 28, 2023

He’s big. He’s jolly. He’s Pancho Claus?

Yes, he is.

Imagine Santa’s cousin dressed in a zoot suit, cruising through the Lone Star state in a lowrider sleigh – all the way from the South Pole. 

Needless to say, Pancho Claus isn’t your typical Santa. He’s a Tex-Mex Santa.

The Story of Pancho Claus

While Pancho Claus isn’t a widely recognized figure as good ol’ Saint Nick, he’s a cultural figure celebrated in some Mexican-American communities, including parts of Texas. 

Instead of emerging from the snowy North Pole in a Charles Dickens novel, this Santa is said to have sprang forth from the Chicano civil rights movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But musician, songwriter and singer Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero (1916 – 2005) composed the original holiday song about the Tex-Mex Santa, “Pancho Claus,” in 1956. 

The catchy tune weaves together Christmas traditions with vibrant Mexican-American culture. And it’s funny.

The lyrics of “Pancho Claus” are actually a clever parody the classic poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” for example: 

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the casa,
Mama was busy preparing the masa,
To make tamales for the tamaladas,
And gather ingredients for the enchiladas.

The song continues with a lively portrayal of Pancho Claus, who replaces Santa’s reindeer with eight adorable little donkeys. 

As Santa’s cousin from south of the border, Pancho Claus delivers toys to good little girls and boys. His festive greeting? “Merry Christmas, Feliz Año Nuevo!”

The beloved song is part of Tejano Christmas celebrations, blending humor, holiday cheer, and cultural pride.

Becoming Pancho Claus

Today, each region seems to have their own Pancho Claus, but all, like Santa Claus, have the same goal: to bring holiday cheer to many.

Houstonian Richard Reyes, perhaps the most popular Pancho Claus, was even inducted into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, in  December 2021.

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

Reyes stepped into the role of Pancho Claus in the early 1980s, fueled by a personal tragedy. His teenage sister was killed in a drive-by shooting, and he needed a way to channel his grief and give back to the community.

He became a Pancho Claus for the community-based acting group Talento Bilingue de Houston. 

“He jumped in to help tell the story for a short show that he performed in that retold the story of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a local NBC Houston TV station reports.

His character would bring joy, laughter, and presents to the neighborhoods that needed it most.

“Reyes, who plays the Latino St. Nick character, coordinates toy drives and deliveries for Christmas all year long,” the Hall of Fame explains. “The Pancho Claus legend that’s often replicated in other barrios across the United States, but Reyes’ version is the best known and he has held it down for Houston for 40 years beginning in the early 1980s.”

And, from the get-go Reyes’ Pancho Claus said he didn’t slide down chimneys. 

Instead, he slipped through bathroom windows. Why? According to his character, many homes in the predominantly Hispanic Second Ward neighborhood lacked chimneys. Pancho Claus got creative. He’d tiptoe past the toilet and shimmy into the living room, bearing gifts and a mischievous grin.

Reyes’ Pancho Claus has some great lines too: “What to my wondering eyes should appear, but eight lowrider cars all jacked out in the rear.” 

“It’s grown amazingly,” says Reyes. “Now we give out hundreds of toys, if not thousands, with other agencies and we also have a big Christmas Eve party for about 300 families … and then on Christmas Day itself we actually go to the barrios with lowrider cars with sirens blaring … and give out toys there.”

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