Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer
A childhood fascination and a $10 investment at Wal-Mart has led to a seasonal Santa Claus who doesn’t mind being a rent-a-Santa, or a jolly old St. Nick waving at passersby just because it’s Christmas time.
Manny Gallegos is the smiling man in the red and white fur suit who can be seen walking around town. Gallegos says he plans to wear the Santa Claus get-up almost daily until Christmas. He’s been hired again by La Tienda grocery store this year to greet children and hear their wish lists on Dec. 23 and he says he is willing to be a substitute Santa if others get runover by reindeer. He was Santa Claus at La Tienda last year too.
Even when Gallegos is not getting paid to be Santa, he said he will continue to play the part daily because, as an adult, he still believes in Santa Claus and enjoys dressing like him.
“I guess I dress like Santa Claus because I like to see people’s reactions. They wave, honk their horns and make me feel happy,” Gallegos said. “I just feel like being Santa Claus. I guess I believe in Santa Claus because when I was a kid, he always brought me what I wanted.”
But don’t expect this Santa to bring you everything you want. He patiently listens to children’s’ wish lists, occasionally giving them candy, and promises to bring them “something.” But when adults are naughty and ask him for outlandish things like $10,000, Gallegos responds, “Sorry, but I can’t help you there!”
Gallegos admits that he is somewhat of an eccentric character because he likes to wear attention-getting hats on various holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween. However family and friends say Gallegos, who is disabled and unable to maintain a standard job, is just a friendly guy who likes to have fun.
“Manny’s just a lovable boy who’s always had a fascination with Santa Claus,” said his sister, Irene Gallegos. “I think he likes to wear costumes and hats to attract more friends. He likes stuff out of the ordinary and always gets into holidays.”
Over at La Tienda, assistant manager Henry Miranda, also put in a good word for the store’s official Santa Claus.
“There has to be something wrong with you if you have something against Manny,” Miranda said point blank. “He’s a really caring person who opens up to people well and gets along with everybody. That’s why he makes a great Santa. He comes around the store a lot and chats with all the employees.”
Irene said that her brother, whom she calls a joy to the family, was considered mentally handicapped when he was born and has had more than 30 surgeries, but that hasn’t seemed to dampen Gallegos’ zeal for life.
Gallegos’ Santa Claus days began a few years ago when he was asked to be Santa Claus at the community center in Villanueva. Gallegos enjoyed the experience so much that he went and purchased a Santa Claus costume at Wal-Mart last year and then got his first official Santa gig at La Tienda.
But being one to always draw attention on himself, Gallegos got some unwanted attention when he said he was walking around in his Santa outfit just before Thanksgiving last year and some cops stopped him.
“I asked the cops If I did something wrong and told them I was walking to my cousin’s house,” Gallegos said. “The cops then asked me, ‘Isn’t it a little too early for being Santa?’”
Gallegos said that a couple of weeks after that, another cop stopped him. Gallegos said he just gave the cop a candy cane and wished him a merry Christmas.
When he’s not playing the part of Santa Claus, Gallegos enjoys music, claiming that he owns 242 CDs. He can often be found listening to his favorite tunes at the computer labs at Eastern New Mexico University. Gallegos said he’s also a handy man who is often called upon to fix things like VCRs and DVD players.
During this time of the year, Gallegos can also be found watching Christmas movies. His favorites are Frosty the Snowman and anything with Santa Claus.
So what exactly makes a good Santa Claus?
Gallegos responded, “It helps to be friendly, and it also doesn’t hurt to have a video of the Walton’s Christmas.”
And what does Santa want for Christmas?
Gallegos, who is a 40-year-old bachelor, said, “A girlfriend would be nice.”
In describing his self-appointed, seasonal role, Gallegos said being Santa Claus is his way of getting into the Christmas spirit, something that’s not too hard for a guy who says his everyday theme song in life is, “Don’t worry, be happy!”
Gallegos can be contacted at 356-8107 or 356-3805.