The event is described by its organizers as “a nonsensical Santa Claus convention that happens once a year for absolutely no reason.” Critics cite widespread drunkenness and sporadic violence, with Business Insider calling it a "dreaded annual event where frat house expats wreck havoc on the city dressed as the jolly holiday icon." The Los Angeles Times reported that "some see [SantaCon] as a way for people who live in the suburbs to come to the city and ruin the weekend."
It originated in San Francisco in 1994 and has since spread to 44 countries around the world. Events for 2013 are scheduled in 300 cities, including New York City, London, Vancouver, Belfast, and Moscow. The New York SantaCon is the largest, with an estimated 30,000 people participating in 2012. Other events were much smaller and more subdued, with 30 participating in Spokane, Washington.
In New York City, where it has taken place since 1997, it as has come under widespread criticism for rowdiness by participants, with drunken behavior that has disrupted parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and led to calls for the event to be ended and for participant misbehavior to be curbed. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that despite "some rowdy actions by a small handful of people in the past," SantaCon was "an event that we support. It’s what makes New York New York." The 2013 SantaCon was more subdued than previous ones due to an increased police presence, poor weather, and advance coordination with authorities.
SantaCon was inspired by the Danish activist theatre group Solvognen. In 1974, the group gathered dozens of "Santas" to hand out items from the shelves of a department store to customers as “presents.” The first SantaCon took place in San Francisco in 1994. Participants dress up as Santa Claus, and also as elves and reindeer. The event was described by The New York Times as "a daylong bar crawl that begins with good cheer and, for many, inevitably ends in a blurry, booze-soaked haze."
In 2012, sixty NYC SantaCon venues donated $45,000 to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. Organizers said NYC SantaCon also donated 6,850 pounds of canned food to City Harvest.
Participant conduct and community opposition
SantaCon participants have been criticized for widespread rowdiness and public drunkenness. At a 2011 community board meeting in lower Manhattan, residents complained that their neighborhood had been "terrorized" by SantaCon participants. During the New York City SantaCon in 2012, participants "left a trail of trouble" through Hell's Kitchen; Midtown Manhattan; the East Village; and Williamsburg. Residents complained revelers vomited and urinated in the street and fought with each other. In New York City, one source of tension with residents was that most of the revelers come to the event from outside the city.
In an article on the 2011 SantaCon, Gothamist called SantaCon an "annual drunken shitshow" that "has steadily devolved from cleverly subversive to barely tolerable to 'time to lock yourself in your apartment for the day.' " An op-ed in The New York Times on the eve of the 2013 SantaCon criticized it for "sexism, drunkenness, xenophobia, homophobia and enough incidents of public vomiting and urination to fill an infinite dunk tank," and said it "contributes absolutely zero value – cultural, artistic, aesthetic, diversionary, culinary or political – to its host neighborhood. Quite simply, SantaCon is a parasite."
A New York City Police Department lieutenant in Hell’s Kitchen sent an open letter to local taverns in 2013 which said, “Having thousands of intoxicated partygoers roam the streets urinating, littering, vomiting and vandalizing will not be tolerated in our neighborhood.” On the Lower East Side of Manhattan, residents posted notices telling SantaCon participants to stay away, saying “Alcohol Soaked Father Christmas-themed flash mob not welcome here. Take your body fluids and public intoxication elsewhere.” Prior to the 2013 SantaCon, city authorities demanded advance notice of the route of the pub crawl. The event was diverted from the Lower East Side and Midtown Manhattan because of complaints by residents, but went through East Village and parts of Brooklyn as originally planned.
A SantaCon organizer said that the group was "very aware of the backlash" and has sought to curb participant misconduct by the use of "helper elves" along the SantaCon route. There were no arrests at the 2013 SantaCon in New York City, and far fewer summonses issued. A beefed-up police presence and poor weather were credited with the decrease. Complaints of crowds and public drunkenness continued.
- Semuels, Alana (14 December 2013). "Annual SantaCon bar crawl a headache for some New Yorkers". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- Donaldson James, Susan (11 December 2009). "Santa Con: Kringle Chaos is Coming to Town". ABC News. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
- "Naughty or Nice? SantaCon 2013 Storms Manhattan". TIME. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
- Moss, Caroline (16 December 2013). "A Bunch Of Santas Got Into A Violent Brawl On An NYC Street Corner This Weekend". Business Insider. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
- Santora, Marc (13 December 2013). "Naughty or Nice? Not Everyone Is Jolly About SantaCon Coming to Town". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- "Pub-crawl Santas: Vancouver joins in the Christmas spirit with SantaCon 2013". The Province (Canada.com). 14 December 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
- Gilbert, Jason O. (13 December 2013). "Bring Drunken Santas Under Control". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- McCabe, Lyndsay (22 November 2013). "NYPD Ask Bar Owners to Refuse to Serve Rowdy SantaCon Revelers". LongIsland.com. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- Gillespie, Kaitlin (15 December 2013). "SantaCon Spokane a good night indeed". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
- Parascandola, Rocco (23 November 2013). "NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly: SantaCon is a 'peaceful event' department supports". The Daily News. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- Chung, Jen (24 November 2013). "Ray Kelly Says NYPD Supports Santacon: 'It Makes New York New York'". Gothamist. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- Del Signore, John (12 December 2011). "It's Time For SantaCon To Stop". Gothamist. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- James, Will (15 December 2013). "New York City Santas Behaved (Mostly): Snow, Slush and Efforts to Quell the Merriment of SantaCon Didn't Stop the Annual Bar Crawl". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
- "Drunk Santas Terrorized City During Seasonal Rampage, Critics Say". DNAInfo New York. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- Shapiro, Julie (20 December 2011). "Drunken Santas Terrorized Lower Manhattan During SantaCon, Locals Say". DNAInfo New York. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
- Tracy, Thomas (4 December 2013). "SantaCon organizers working with politicians, police to turn naughty event nice". The Daily News. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- Semuels, Alana (13 December 2013). "SantaCon, after last year's rowdy event, divides New York City". Lost Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
- Stuart, Tessa (14 December 2013). "Like it or Not, SantaCon is Coming to the East Village, Lower East Side & Brooklyn". Village Voice. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
- "SantaCon Nixes Lower East Side from Route After Complaints". Channel 4 New York. 13 December 2013. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- Goldensohn, Rosa (14 December 2013). "SantaCon Takes East Village in Flurry of Crowded Bars and Beer Lines". DNAInfo. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Santacon.|
- SantaCon New York City website
- Gothamist: The Faces of SantaCon 2013
- Santarchy, A Global Directory of Santacon Events
- WNBC-TV Segment on Lower East Side Opposition
- "The dark side of Father Christmas: SantaCon," The Guardian
- "SantaCon Could Be Awesome, But Here's The Core Reason Why It's Atrocious," BusinessInsider.com
- Video of SantaCon Brawl, 2013