Joe Magaldi

Photo from Jessica Lani Rich

Photo from Jessica Lani Rich

Bringing cheer to keiki and their families runs in Joe Magaldi’s blood. For more than 30 years — 32, to be exact — he has been playing Santa Claus at Honolulu Hale each Christmas. Earlier this year, Magaldi was awarded a certificate by the Honolulu City Council for his many years of volunteer service to the community.

He was the one out there donning a getup fashioned after the extra-large Mr. and Mrs. Claus above the fountain.

Back when Mayor Frank Fasi held office Christmas parties at Natsunoya Tea House, Magaldi remembers the night his Santa Claus legacy began.

“Fasi said, ‘You’re going to be that shaka Santa Claus,’” recalls the retired Marine colonel. “From that day on, I was Santa Claus at City Hall.”

Magaldi has served as the city’s Santa Claus under five mayors over the course of his tenure and has met people from all over the world.

“It doesn’t cost me a cent,” he says, “but it makes them feel good. It helps people, and that’s the main thing.”

He recalls visitors from Italy who have returned six times to see “a Santa Claus in bare legs.”

Magaldi also remembers a recent encounter with a 22-year-old woman who wanted to take a picture sitting on his lap — a pose re-created from when she first visited him as a 6-month-old baby.

Sitting for hours each night has been worth it for Magaldi, who enjoys seeing the smiles on children’s faces after they get their picture taken.

Normally, in the past, requests had come in the form of material gifts, like bicycles and fire trucks.

“But not these past couple of years,” he says. “For the past couple of years, most of the kids (around ages 10-12) don’t ask for gifts,” he explains. “They want peace at home, which really surprised me, family peace.”

While he probably won’t be playing Santa anymore, Magaldi, a former Department of Transportation head, plans to keep himself busy with his work on the Shidler Alumni Association Board and as chairman of the administrative efforts for Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii. He’s also involved with Friends of Italy Society of Hawaii.