Tabasco is one of Mexico’s poorest states, known for being the namesake of a brand of hot sauce and near-constant flooding. But it is also home to a taxi-driving Santa Claus.
Every year taxi driver Armando Castillo dons one of his three Santa suits each day during the month of December to drive around the streets of the state capital, Villahermosa, where temperatures rarely drop below 35 C.
He has even named his taxi Rodolfo (Rudolph in English).
Castillo has done this every year for seven years, making him well-known in this small city, which feels more like an oversized town. Santa behind the wheel attracts a lot of attention, especially at traffic lights. Sometimes prospective fares will fight for the chance to ride with him and, of course, taking pictures of themselves with him on their cell phones.
Castillo’s main purpose in dressing up in his Santa suit is to collect and give away toys to poor children. This year his goal is to give away 1,000. The toys come from community organizations, businesses and individuals, and he accepts new toys as well as used ones in good condition.
In the real world, Castillo is a married man with five grown children of his own. The idea to turn himself into Santa Taxista, as he is known, came about around a decade ago, prompted by the look on poor children’s faces when presented with an unexpected gift. To attend to his duties as Santa Claus, Castillo parks in various parts of the city, where children run up to him with letters in hand and adults bring toys and other donations.
His work has been so successful that in 2019 he founded the non-profit the Dream of Santa and the Three Wise Men, partnering with local businesses to open donation centers.
But being Santa is not enough. Castillo dresses as Santa during the entire month of December, but after Christmas he assumes another role as one of the Three Wise Men along with two of his friends. This is because in Mexican culture, children traditionally receive gifts on Epiphany (January 6), like the Baby Jesus did.