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In New York City, 2008 Drinks (3106214344).jpg
In New York City, 2008

SantaCon is an annual pub crawl [1] [2] [3] in which people dressed in Santa Claus costumes or as other Christmas characters parade in several cities around the world. [4]

Pub crawl

A pub crawl is the act of drinking in multiple pubs or bars in a single night.

Santa Claus Folkloric figure, said to deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, or simply Santa, is a legendary figure originating in Western Christian culture who is said to bring gifts to the homes of well-behaved children on the night of Christmas Eve and the early morning hours of Christmas Day. The modern Santa Claus grew out of traditions surrounding the historical Saint Nicholas, the British figure of Father Christmas and the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas. Some maintain Santa Claus also absorbed elements of the Germanic god Wodan, who was associated with the pagan midwinter event of Yule and led the Wild Hunt, a ghostly procession through the sky.


A December 2014 cover story in the Village Voice recounted how SantaCon had evolved from "joyful performance art" that originated in San Francisco to a "reviled bar crawl" of drunken brawling, vandalism, public urination and disorder in New York City and elsewhere, resulting in fierce community resistance and disavowals from the originators of the event. [3] [5]


In San Francisco, 2014 Cmglee San Francisco Union Square SantaCon.jpg
In San Francisco, 2014

SantaCon began in San Francisco in 1994, inspired by a Mother Jones article on the Danish activist theatre group Solvognen. In 1974, Solvognen gathered dozens of "Santas" in Copenhagen to hand out items from the shelves of a department store to customers as “presents” [6] before they were arrested. [7] Staged as street theater by a local prankster group, the Cacophony Society [7] — which had grown out of the earlier Suicide Club [8] — 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. [8]

<i>Mother Jones</i> (magazine) Magazine focusing on news, commentary, and investigative reporting; based in San Francisco

Mother Jones is an American magazine that focuses on news, commentary, and investigative reporting on topics including politics, the environment, human rights, and culture. Its political inclination is variously described as either liberal or progressive. Clara Jeffery serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine. Steve Katz has been the publisher since 2010; Monika Bauerlein has been the CEO since 2015. Mother Jones is published by The Foundation for National Progress.

The Cacophony Society is "a randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.” It was started in 1986 by surviving members of the now defunct Suicide Club of San Francisco.

The Suicide Club was a secret society in San Francisco credited as the first modern extreme urban exploration society, and also known for anarchic group pranks. Despite its name, the club was not actually about suicide.

SantaCon came to Portland in 1996 to Seattle in 1997, and to Los Angeles and 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. [3] It has since evolved and spread to 44 countries around the world, with varying versions and interpretations. [2] [6] Events for 2013 were scheduled in 300 cities, including New York City, London, Vancouver, Belfast, and Moscow. [2] The New York SantaCon is the largest, with an estimated 30,000 people participating in 2012. [9] [10] Other events were much smaller and more subdued, with 30 participating in Spokane, Washington. [11]

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Vancouver City in British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver is a coastal seaport city in western Canada, located in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia. As the most populous city in the province, the 2016 census recorded 631,486 people in the city, up from 603,502 in 2011. The Greater Vancouver area had a population of 2,463,431 in 2016, making it the third-largest metropolitan area in Canada. Vancouver has the highest population density in Canada with over 5,400 people per square kilometre, which makes it the fifth-most densely populated city with over 250,000 residents in North America behind New York City, Guadalajara, San Francisco, and Mexico City according to the 2011 census. Vancouver is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities in Canada according to that census; 52% of its residents have a first language other than English. 48.9% have neither English nor French as their first language. Roughly 30% of the city's inhabitants are of Chinese heritage.

It has been variously also known as Santarchy, Santa Rampage, the Red Menace, and Santapalooza. [12]

SantaCon venues

New York City

In New York City, 2011. (20-second video)

In New York City, by far the largest SantaCon venue, the event has been criticized for widespread drunkenness and sporadic violence. At a 2011 community board meeting in lower Manhattan, residents complained that their neighborhood had been "terrorized" by SantaCon participants. [13] 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.' " [14] The New York Daily News reported in 2017 that the event "endures an annual backlash from New Yorkers repulsed by the sight of Santas vomiting or urinating in the street in years past." [5]

Lower Manhattan Central business district in New York, United States

Lower Manhattan, also known as Downtown Manhattan or Downtown New York, is the southernmost part of Manhattan, the central borough for business, culture, and government in the City of New York, which itself originated at the southern tip of Manhattan Island in 1624, at a point which now constitutes the present-day Financial District. The population of the Financial District alone has grown to an estimated 61,000 residents as of 2018, up from 43,000 as of 2014, which in turn was nearly double the 23,000 recorded at the 2000 Census.

Gothamist LLC was the operator, or in some cases franchisor, of eight city-centric websites that focused on news, events, food, culture, and other local coverage. It was founded in 2003 by Jake Dobkin and Jen Chung. In March 2017, Joe Ricketts, owner of DNAinfo, acquired the company and, in November 2017, the websites were shut down after the newsroom staff voted to unionize. In February 2018, it was announced that WNYC, KPCC and WAMU had acquired Gothamist, LAist and DCist, respectively. Chicagoist was purchased by Chicago-born rapper Chance the Rapper in July 2018.

The New York Daily News, officially titled Daily News, is an American newspaper based in New York City. As of May 2016, it was the ninth-most widely circulated daily newspaper in the United States. It was founded in 1919, and was the first U.S. daily printed in tabloid format. It reached its peak circulation in 1947, at 2.4 million copies a day.

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. [15] Residents complained revelers vomited and urinated in the street and fought with each other. [16] One source of tension with residents was that most of the revelers come to the event from outside the city. [17] [18]

Official organizers in 2013 described it as “a nonsensical Santa Claus convention that happens once a year for absolutely no reason”, [19] 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. [3] [15] That year, 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." [6]

Drunken behavior in 2013 disrupted parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, [18] [20] [21] [22] [23] 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. [6] [9] [14] [24] [25] 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." [3]

Revelers in New York City in 2008 Santa Sale.jpg
Revelers in New York City in 2008

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." [9]

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." [26] 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.” [6] [19] 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." [18]

Prior to the 2013 SantaCon, city authorities demanded advance notice of the route of the pub crawl. [27] 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. [28] [29] 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. [6] 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. [30]

Merchant sign, New York's East Village, November 2015 Santacon photo - Tompkins Square.jpg
Merchant sign, New York's East Village, November 2015

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. [6] 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, [30] 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." [3] 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. [31] A "boycott SantaCon" website was launched by other opponents, and bars said that they would refuse entry to SantaCon participants. [3] [32] 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. [33]

After the withdrawal from Bushwick, and opposition from the community board representing the Lower East Side [34] and Hell's Kitchen, [33] the 2014 event was rescheduled for December 13 for 32 bars in Midtown Manhattan. [35] Event organizers hired Norman Siegel, a civil rights attorney, to defend their rights to express themselves "within the parameters of the First Amendment." [34] The 2014 SantaCon coincided with demonstrations in Manhattan against police brutality sparked by the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. [36]

Police arrested five participants and handed out 100 summonses during the 2015 Santacon, which took place on Dec. 12. The summonses were for offenses that included carrying an open container, disorderly conduct and public urination. One participant was arrested for assault, one for possession of a weapon and three with drug possession. [37]

2016 Santacon Union Square 2016 jeh.jpg

In anticipation of the 2016 Santacon, scheduled for Dec. 10, Metro-North Railroad banned alcohol on trains and stations. [38] The event was scheduled to take place in Midtown Manhattan, the East Village and Flatiron. [39] A hundred summonses were handed out by police but there were no arrests. The New York Daily News reported that the pub crawl left "a trail of vomit and destruction throughout the East Village" and that one bar was robbed and vandalized by SantaCon participants. [40]

The 2017 New York City SantaCon took place on Dec. 9. [5] A stepped-up police presence and 24-hour liquor ban on Long Island Rail Road trains curbed disorder. Police reported one arrest. [41]

Other cities

In Atlanta, 2006 Santacon 2006 166.jpg
In Atlanta, 2006

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." [42]

In 2018, Santacon organizers said that the city of San Francisco will not sanction the event. [43] The event went on despite the city's objections, which concerned safety and crowd control. No permits were issued and the crowd was thinner than in the past. [44]

Fourteen persons were arrested at the 2018 Santacon in Hoboken, New Jersey, including two for aggravated assault on police officers and one for a sexual offense. Hoboken's mayor, Ravi Bhalla, said that though there were fewer arrests than in 2017, when 17 were arrested, Santcon "remains a detriment to our city," and that Hoboken would "continue to explore ways to mitigate the impact of future ‘con’ events.” [45]

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