“I wish we had more Santas in the world”
Long-time Santa Continous to Thrive During Hawaiian Holiday
Pitched and published for Honolulu Civil Beat and Boyd's Station.
Driving into Aloha Stadium’s Show Aloha Land, this year’s drive-through Christmas light show, the infamous Santa Claus sits at the entrance with his radio playing Christmas songs people look forward to all year. As people drive by, he waves and welcomes them with a jolly “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas! Always listen to mommy and daddy, kids.” That is Don Gonzales, and he has dressed up as Santa Claus for the past five years.
Gonzales has worked in multiple professions during his 56 years of living in Hawaii. When he is not dressed up as Santa, he is a foster caregiver, a drummer at several local churches and a fumigator. However, during the holiday season, he has taken on the red and white outfit entertaining people around the island.
Words and Photograph by Shafkat Anowar
Five years ago, Don Gonzales found his calling as Santa Claus when his long white beard caught the eye of a photo studio owner at an Oahu mall.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Is that real?’, and I looked at her and said ‘Of course it’s real,’” he said.
He got the gig playing Santa at the mall’s rotunda for three years and then branched out to other venues, including last year’s Winter Wonderland at the Hawaii Convention Center.
Gonzales, in his Ewa home, prepares to take his grandchildren, Skyzen and Skyrie, to evening Mass.
What started as a side gig became a regular job during the holiday season. Soon after getting enough experience as Santa Claus, he became a familiar face at private parties, photoshoots, and malls. Among his many opportunities and events he has worked at, he believes his biggest achievement was being Santa at last year’s Winter Wonderland at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center.
The coronavirus pandemic has been financially devastating as it has inhibited his income, especially during the holiday season. It has shut down many opportunities where he could work as Santa Claus full-time.
“Up until this year I had been making anywhere from six to eight thousand dollars in just last week of November to Christmas eve,” said Gonzales about his wages from last year. “This year I am only going to make half of what I usually make because there is not that many shoots on the beach, no private parties because of the pandemic and there is no mall where I could be working full time instead.”
“I want them to pull the car over and come and take pictures with me,” Gonzales said. “Although I am here and they are there, the windows are up, the kids just want to touch me. They put their hands up against the window. The first time they did and I saw that, my heart literally broke into a million pieces.”
Besides being a Santa, he is a drummer at two churches, runs a care home for the elderly at his Ewa house and works as a fumigator. He lives with his wife, daughter and grandchildren. He’s also a recovering addict, clean for 30 years.
Gonzales spent eight years as a tour guide in Waikiki, but he wants to finish his work life pursuing his passion, playing Santa Claus.