Local legend: Houston’s Pancho Claus is coming to town in his zoot suit and lowrider

HOUSTON – Sure, Santa is great, but have you met his cousin, or primo, Pancho Claus? While they both love spreading Christmas cheer, Pancho prefers to do it in a zoot suit and lowrider. Pancho Claus is an icon in the Houston community who has even gained national attention, but this year he needs your help. Pancho Claus creator Richard Reyes shared how the character evolved into a local legend who has been giving back to the Houston community since the 1980s.

“It started 40 years ago [as] a play,” said Reyes. “It was an adaptation of The Night Before Christmas. Instead of reindeer, we had lowriders. Instead of chimneys, we broke into bathroom windows in the Second Ward.”

Richard Reyes performing as Pancho Claus.

After being performed in a range of venues across the city including Alley Theater and Talento Bilingue De Houston, Reyes’ character began to take on a life of its own.

“Little did I know that five years into this 40 year history, my community because of the press was going to believe that I was actually a Pancho Claus who gave presents, and I started getting requests for that,” said Reyes.

Today, Pancho Claus has become a unique hybrid of two of Reyes’ favorite things: performing and giving back to his community.

“Pancho Claus is not Richard Reyes. It’s a movement. It’s a spirit,” said Reyes.

The spirit of Pancho Claus is strong in Houston’s East End where the community has come to know and love the unique character and the need for holiday cheer has grown due to the hardships brought on by the pandemic. As a longtime advocate of Pancho Claus, Senator Carol Alvarado of the Texas Senate District 6 knows on a personal level just how important Reyes’ mission is.

Pancho Claus delivering gifts in Houston.

“He’s been a longtime mentor of mine growing up,” said Alvarado. “What Richard and Pancho Claus do, they help kids year round. They’re not just giving toys away during Christmas time...They help people in need...[and] there are more people in need now with the pandemic.”

It’s no surprise that after giving so much to the city, Houston would reciprocate with its full support of Pancho Claus.

“The city has been tremendous,” said Reyes. “Our city councilmen help us so much - our state representatives, community leaders, everybody from ma and pa grocery stores, bars, restaurants, family parties, corporate parties, the volunteers who come over here and help us sort toys, the lowriders, the police officers. It’s just mob.”

And while getting press coverage, rubbing elbows with celebrities and receiving multiple proclamations from the City of Houston is great, for Reyes and his 40 year history as Pancho Claus, the greatest thing for him has been the impact he’s made on the community.

Pancho Claus giving a gift to a child in need.

“What really touches my heart is watching an abuelita, a grandmother, standing on the porch who’s raising five kids by herself or a mom with tears in her eyes who thought maybe they weren’t going to have what they’re getting now, and the gratefulness,” said Reyes. “That is a real special feeling besides the kids smiles and hugs.”

Pancho Claus is asking for new toy donations at the Latino Learning Center now through January 6th. Donations can also be made through their GoFundMe page here. To connect with Reyes, click here.

About the Author:

Olivia Kolanek is the Features Producer of KPRC 2's Houston Life. She joined the KPRC family in the summer of 2019 after working in non-profit communications for three years. She is passionate about creating content that features good people, good food or a good story. Olivia is a University of Houston alumna, Audible junkie and scuba novice.