SantaCon is an annual costume party, mass gathering and pub crawl of people dressed in Santa Claus costumes or as other Christmas characters parading in several cities around the world, principally in New York City. It has been variously also known as Santarchy, Santa Rampage, the Red Menace, and Santapalooza.
A cover story in the Village Voice in December 2014 recounted how SantaCon had evolved from a "joyful performance art" in San Francisco to a "reviled bar crawl" that had brought drunken brawling, vandalism, and disorder to New York City neighborhoods, resulting in fierce community resistance. 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."
SantaCon began in San Francisco in 1994, inspired by a Mother Jones article on the Danish activist theatre group Solvognen. In 1974, the group gathered dozens of "Santas" in Copenhagen to hand out items from the shelves of a department store to customers as “presents” before they were arrested. Staged by a local prankster group, the Cacophony Society, that had grown out of the earlier Suicide Club (secret society), as street theater, the aim was to make fun of Christmas and the rampant consumerism associated with the holiday. Originally called Santarchy and influenced by the surrealist movement, Discordianism, and other subversive art currents, it was not intended to be a recurrent event.
SantaCon came to New York in 1998, when a "young San Franciscan strapped on a fake white beard, donned a $12 red suit, and led 200 Santas as they went caroling up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan," to the delight of passersby. It has since evolved and spread to 44 countries around the world, with varying versions and interpretations. Events for 2013 were 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.
SantaCon in New York City
In New York City, by far the largest SantaCon venue, the event has been criticized for widespread drunkenness and sporadic violence. Official organizers in 2013 described it as “a nonsensical Santa Claus convention that happens once a year for absolutely no reason”, saying on their website that $60,000 was raised that year for New York charities, and that participants donated about 6,850 pounds of canned food to City Harvest. That year, the The New York Times described the event as "a daylong bar crawl that begins with good cheer and, for many, inevitably ends in a blurry, booze-soaked haze."
Drunken behavior in 2013 disrupted parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and led to calls for the event to be ended and for participant misbehavior to be curbed. The event is monitored and supported by the New York City Police Department. But community opposition has increased, as SantaCon evolved into what The Village Voice described as "a day-long spectacle of public inebriation somewhere between a low-rent Mardi Gras and a drunken fraternity party."
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."
Business Insider called the 2013 event a "dreaded annual event where frat house expats" wreak havoc on the city "dressed as the jolly holiday icon." A NYPD 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.
During the 2013 SantaCon in New York City, the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and New Jersey Transit banned alcohol consumption on their trains for 24 hours. The 2013 SantaCon was more subdued than previous ones not only due to the alcohol ban on trains, but also an increased police presence, poor weather, and advance coordination with authorities.
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, and "the Santas would more or less take over all of the East Village — visiting bars that had no affiliation with SantaCon whatsoever, angering patrons of those establishments who had no interest in being caught up in the debauchery."
In 2014, community leaders in Bushwick, Brooklyn banded together to block SantaCon when organizers announced their intent to move the event to that neighborhood. Rafael Espinal, Jr., the city councilman representing Bushwick, urged bars to refrain from participating in the event. A "boycott SantaCon" website was launched by other opponents, and bars said that they would refuse entry to SantaCon participants. The New York City Parks Department refused to issue a permit for use of a local park, leading organizers to cancel plans to have SantaCon in Bushwick.
After the withdrawal from Bushwick, and opposition from the community board representing the Lower East Side and Hell's Kitchen, the 2014 event was rescheduled for December 13 for 32 bars in Midtown Manhattan. Event organizers hired Norman Siegel, a civil rights attorney, to defend their rights to express themselves "within the parameters of the First Amendment." The 2014 SantaCon coincided with demonstrations in Manhattan against police brutality sparked by the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.
In Portland, Oregon, the 2014 SantaCon was organized by the Cacophony Society, which had originated SantaCon in the city, and sought to recapture event's roots. The Oregonian commented that "while the massively popular New York Santacon made its own bold statement about First Amendment rights Saturday, the Portland Santacon's statement went back to the charmingly subversive attitude that started it all."
- "Santas Swarm Midtown For Annual SantaCon Pub Crawl". CBSNew York. 13 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- "Pub-crawl Santas: Vancouver joins in the Christmas spirit with SantaCon 2013". The Province (Canada.com). 14 December 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
- Hoffman, Meredith (9 December 2014). "Ho, Ho, Bro: How SantaCon Went From Joyful Performance Art to Reviled Bar Crawl". The Village Voice. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- Donaldson James, Susan (December 11, 2009). "Santa Con: Kringle Chaos is Coming to Town". ABC News. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
- Donaldson James, Susan (11 December 2009). "Santa Con: Kringle Chaos is Coming to Town". ABC News. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
- Semuels, Alana (14 December 2013). "Annual SantaCon bar crawl a headache for some New Yorkers". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 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.
- David Freedlander (December 12, 2014). "Before the Bros, SantaCon Was as an Anti-Corporate Protest". The Daily Beast.
- Hirsch, Daniel (2009-12-11). "25 Days of Weird Christmas: Santarchy". San Francisco Chronicle.
- 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.
- "Naughty or Nice? SantaCon 2013 Storms Manhattan". TIME. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
- "Drunk Santas Terrorized City During Seasonal Rampage, Critics Say". DNAInfo New York. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fishbein, Rebecca (18 November 2014). "Brooklyn Councilmember Urges Bushwick Bars To Boycott SantaCon". Gothamist. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- O'Neill, Natalie (19 November 2014). "5 Brooklyn Bars to Boycott 'SantaCon'". New York Post. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- Dai, Serena (19 November 2014). "SantaCon Will No Longer Take Place in Bushwick, Organizers Say". DNAInfo. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- Del Signore, John (10 December 2014). "SantaCon Hires Famous Civil Rights Lawyer To Defend St. Nicks". Gothamist. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- "New York City SantaCon Bars Revealed, Event to Have "Lowest Possible Impact": Organizers". NBCNewYork.com (WNBC-TV). 12 December 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- Kuperinsky, Anne (13 December 2014). "SantaCon 2014 collides with Millions March NYC protest". NJ.com. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- Hale, Jamie (13 December 2014). "Finding the true meaning of Santacon: Inside Portland's cheeky Santa experience". The Oregonian. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to SantaCon (event).|
- Santarchy, A Global Directory of Santacon Events
- SantaCon New York City website
- Santacon Los Angeles Photos
- Photographs of 2014 SantaCon in New York City, from The Washington Post
- Videos of 2013 New York City SantaCon