By Dana Williams
Sen. Dwayne San Nicolas has had a variety of jobs over the last 30 years: Customs officer, soldier, school counselor, business owner, lawmaker.
And then he has had a calling: Santa Claus. “That's my favorite job in the whole wide world,” he said. “And so, I get busy around this time of the year. My schedule starts to pile up and I have to be in so many places.”
In December, he balances legislative duties with requests for Santa appearances. “I have to be at three schools in a day, sometimes back-to-back days,” he said. “And then we also have people from the public who call me up and say, ‘Can you appear here? At our party?’ So I'll be there. And I never, I never charge for Santa.”
San Nicolas first became St. Nick in 2017, when his wife was working at the Navy Exchange. “They said, ‘Your husband’s such a nice man, can he be our Santa?’ And that was the first time I ever did Santa.”
But he was ready. “I had a Santa suit made because I knew already one day, somebody might ask me to be Santa, so I might as well be prepared, right?”
At the time San Nicolas was working as a Customs officer, but the holiday experience changed him. While previously deployed with the Guam National Guard, he found other soldiers would talk to him about their problems. After deployment, he started studying counseling. “But it wasn't until I did the Santa Claus that I said, ‘You know what? I think it's time to change,’” he said. “I love working with people. I love helping others and helping people. And so, I made that transition that Christmas. I submitted my resignation.”
San Nicolas said he wanted to make the switch after meeting one of his first customers, a little girl with Down syndrome. “She ran to me and gave me a big hug. And she goes, ‘Santa, you're my favorite Santa in the whole wide world.’ I started to cry. And I said, ‘OK, I know this is for me.’”
The first year as Santa, he wore a wig. Then he began dying his hair. His children urged him to keep the look year-round.
San Nicolas and his wife started their discount retail business during the pandemic. “I was trying to disguise Santa Claus. I wanted to be Santa Claus all year to make people happy. And so I came up with my company name, J. Goodman, (which stands for) ‘Jolly Good Man.’ It’s like a Clark Kent name, you know?”
His flowing blond hair, heavy beard, wire-framed glasses and trademark red attire don’t provide much of a disguise. He looks like Santa Claus.
With the success of the business, San Nicolas ran for office. The often-contentious world of politics may seem like a strange place to find a man who wants to make people happy, but San Nicolas wanted to legalize consumer fireworks, which were prohibited when he was a kid. He learned the easiest way to make that happen would be to get elected.
His fireworks bill passed and was signed into law by the governor in November. “That was my dream,” he said.
Legalizing fireworks will “make Guam fun again,” he said when he introduced the bill that set off fireworks in the legislature. Sen. Telo Taitague frowned on fireworks legalization. “Our job isn’t to prioritize fun – our job is to protect children from dangerous legislation,” she said.
San Nicolas defended his proposal. “Most of the bills that I have are trying to find a way to raise money for the government, without actually taxing people.”
He said he has explored the idea of a lottery and introduced a bill in July to create the Guam Lottery Commission. A U.S. territory with a smaller population, the Virgin Islands, participates in a lottery. “How cool is that? So I wanted to see if we can do that.”
During the 2022 legislative campaign, his signs carried a phrase in Hebrew - tikkun olam – which means “repair the world.” San Nicolas said he was raised by his father, a former Hagat commissioner, with a strong sense of morality and service. “That’s all I ever wanted to do – make people happy and repair the world,” he said.
In January, San Nicolas introduced a bill that would allow caning as a judicial punishment, citing an increase in drug crimes, burglaries rape and family violence. That bill drew criticism from opponents who said corporal punishment is cruel and unusual. “The caning bill was because, you know, there's a lot of evil out there, and how do you fight evil?” he asked. “In Singapore, they were able to use it effectively. But that's because they have a different form of government. It's very difficult in a democracy to want to instill, or re-instill, order and discipline. It's very hard, very difficult in a democracy,” he said.
After serving in the legislature for 11 months, he’s learned a lot about the political system. “Here I am going in, I'm very naïve,” he said. “You go down there, and you see everybody bickering, and gamesmanship and wanting to one up on you, and you're just a nice guy, and everybody's beating up on you. And, you know, just saying things that are not true. That’s the stuff that was a little bit hard to take,” he said. “Politics is just horrible.”
Still, San Nicolas said he is grateful for the opportunity to serve in office, and he is happy to be Santa. “You have this ability to touch people's hearts, and be warm, and be a symbol of hope. Just by being you. It is the greatest joy ever. It's a great gift.”