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Merry Christmas from Pancho Claus

If it’s Christmas time, it must be time for a Pancho Claus story.

Santa and Pancho

He usually has black hair and a black beard, sometimes just a mustache. Like Santa, he wears a hat — though often it’s a sombrero. He dons a serape or a poncho and, in one case, a red and black zoot suit. And he makes his grand entrance on lowriders or Harleys or led by a pack of burros instead of eight reindeer.

Meet Pancho Claus, the Tex-Mex Santa.

Amid all the talk about Santa Claus’ race, spawned by a Fox News commentator’s remarks that both Santa and Jesus were white, there is, in the Lone Star State, a Hispanic version of Santa in cities from the border to the plains — handing out gifts for low-income and at-risk children.

Born from the Chicano civil rights movement, Pancho Claus is a mostly Texas thing, historians say, though there may be one somewhere in California. Lorenzo Cano, a Mexican-American studies scholar at the University of Houston, says Pancho was apparently conceived north of the border as Mexican-Americans looked to “build a place and a space for themselves” in the 1970s. His rise coincided with a growing interest in Mexican art, Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day and other cultural events.

Now, Pancho is an adored Christmas fixture in many Texas cities.

“We have kids that we ask, ‘Did Santa Claus come to see you?’ and they say, ‘No he didn’t. But Pancho Claus did,’” says Robert Narvaiz, vice commander for Lubbock’s American GI Forum and coordinator of that city’s Pancho project.

Each city’s Pancho has a unique local flavor, but all share roots that set Pancho apart from Santa. Here’s a look at just a few. Oh, and Feliz Navidad, amigos.

For God’s sake, don’t tell Megyn Kelly about this! I’ve blogged about Pancho Claus before – Houston’s version is played by Richard Reyes, whom you see in the photo above, but he’s far from the only one, and his look as Pancho Claus is unique to him. I love reading about Pancho Claus, not just because of the good works the various Panchos do, but also because of the beautiful way he represents the utility and versatility of the Santa Claus story. There are as many variations on Pancho Claus as there are on Santa Claus/Father Christmas, and it always amazes me how adaptable that legend is. It’s true that there are some people whose small minds can’t handle anything that doesn’t resemble themselves or the stories they grew up with, but those people will always be with us in one form or another. No reason to let them detract from the wonder of Pancho Claus. Feliz Navidad, y’all.

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