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December 12, 2004

Bad, bad Santas
Posted by Teresa at 01:00 PM *

From today’s New York Times:

Santa broke out the sour mash at 10 a.m. Christmas was coming. Why not have a drink? He raised his glass to another Santa, who was sucking back some Colt 45.

“Pace yourself,” the second Santa said. “I started with beer this year, not Jim Beam like last year.”

Santa got drunk yesterday. He cursed. He smoked. He took off his clothes in public. It was Santacon, an annual gathering of nasty Santas, in which some 500 naughty Clauses marched through the city, shouting, drinking, raising gentle mayhem.
This could be further confirmation that the “-con” trope has escaped into the wild. Still, if they’ve been calling it “Santacon” for ten years, and it started in the Bay Area, I’d say the odds are good that someone connected to our tribe was involved. A mention of the Santas retreating to a Polynesian-style lounge bar during their first outing in 1994 only adds to my suspicions.
Santacon began 10 years ago in San Francisco, where 30 friends, disheartened by the happiness of Christmas, got together in their Santa suits and set out to have some fun. They crashed a dinner dance and stole people’s drinks. Went to a strip club. Drank themselves silly. Some made it home. Others slept in the streets.

This year, Santacon was—or will be—celebrated from New York to Tokyo and places in between. Its schedule and history can be found online at

The brains behind Santacon are something of a mystery, its organizers remaining underground. A reporter in the crowd set out yesterday to find the Claus-in-Charge but was told there was no main Claus, only subordinate Clauses.

There are four cardinal rules at Santacon. Don’t mess with the police. Don’t mess with kids. Don’t mess with store security. And don’t mess with Santa. These rules were printed on the backs of vomit bags. The bags were passed among the crowd.

New York’s Santacon began with dim sum at the Triple 8 Palace, a Chinese joint on East Broadway under the Manhattan Bridge. “In the North Pole, we don’t get a chance to eat often Chinese very often,” one Santa said. “So when we come to the city, we like to hit the Asian places.”

This Santa, like most, asked to use his working name for reasons of professional privacy. So, Santa it was—all around.

“Santa’s hungry!” Santa called out to the waiter.

“Santa’s taking his pants off!” Santa hollered in the Triple 8. And he did. At the dim sum cart.

After fueling up, Santa headed for the F train. “Have you been nice or naughty?” one lovely Santa in a pair of fishnet stockings asked a police officer. The officer said he’d been naughty. “Well, you get two candy canes for being naughty,” lovely Santa said.

When the F train started, 200 Santas lurched and shouted, “Ho!”

It was a sea of hats and beards and bellies. There were so many Santas, one began to wonder how they got the day off. It was, after all, the holidays—Santa’s busiest time of year.

“Wal-Mart took my job,” said Santa Lamar.

Santa Kevin had a different answer. “Santa got outsourced to India,” he said.

In the West 34th Street station, Santa broke the escalator. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” the crowd of Santas yelled. Then Santa stopped in Herald Square to sing some variations on carols—“Frosty the Cokehead” and “Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire.”

It was on to the New York Public Library, where several hundred Santas gathered on the front steps shouting: “Santa wants a beer! Santa wants a beer!”

One woman turned to her husband with a frown. “This,” she said, “is really going to mess up the kids.”

There was a dicey moment when two traffic officers gave Santa Claus the eye as he and 300 pals crossed 42nd Street at the Avenue of the Americas. A Santa in the vanguard told the officers a few more Santas would be coming in their wake.

“Whose streets?” one Claus chanted. “Santa’s streets!” the crowd called back.

Now Santa headed for that beer. “Belly up to the bar!” one Santa shouted as Santas, by the hundreds, wandered into an Italian place on West 44th Street.

They ordered drinks and staged a belching competition. It was 2 p.m. The day was young.
I’m watching this story, just waiting for someone to complain about the demise of traditional Christmas practices.

Bad Santa is older than Christmas, and at least as pervasive. He’s the Abbot of Unreason, the Bean King, the Boy Bishop, the Prince des Sots, and the Lord of Misrule. He and his perpetually irrepressible ilk have always turned up at the Feast of Asses, Feast of Fools, Brumaria, and Saturnalia. He probably goes back farther than that, but the records don’t.

Besides, Saint Nicholas is good for it. He’s the patron saint of New York City, and the guy who laid a smackdown on Arius in a tavern during the Council of Nicaea. The current image of kindly ol’ Santa Claus, and Christmas as a quiet family holiday, was a PR campaign cooked up in the Nineteenth Century as an attempt to curb the drunken excesses of public celebration in NYC.

So ho, ho, ho. Just keep that fat guy in the red suit away from my wallet.

Comments on Bad, bad Santas:
#1 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 09:41 PM:

just waiting for someone to complain about the demise of traditional Christmas practices

don't look at me. I've got my hands full stirring a house elf into the rice pudding. I'm not taking on a mob of rampaging Santas.

Besides, it's good for the kidlings. Teaches them important stuff about Life, stuff Fischer-Price won't touch. One Santa encounter of the street-riot kind, and see if the kids leave store-bought oreo cookies on the mantle this year. Nuh-uh, they'll bust their butts researching black forest cakes. They'll believe in the coal, they will.

#2 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 10:04 PM:

Yes, someone "connected to our tribe" is involved. Santacon pictures were published in Apa-50 several years ago.

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 10:15 PM:

Photos from the San Francisco event:

(Well, I'm assuming it is SF, which has the only Metreon I know of.)

Patrick Farley's NC-17 comic about the the pagan roots of the winter holiday:

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 10:40 PM:

Thanks, Allan. I heard the same from Lucy -- not the part about Apa-50, just that there were connections.

#5 ::: Jesse ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 10:42 PM:

I want to be a bad Santa. Next year I'm getting my act together and starting my training early.

#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 10:59 PM:

Oooooh . . . has anyone here seen the movie City of Lost Children?

These stories remind me of the (literally) nightmarish opening scene . . .

#8 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:13 PM:

Gosh - where do I sign up for next year? I need to be more aware of these things!

#9 ::: JoshD ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2004, 11:21 PM:

Stefan: It occupies an honored place in my DVD collection, yes. We'll be watching it on Christmas Eve, as is traditional in this house. And by "traditional" I mean "something I just made up."

And in the vein of anti-santas, don't forget Krampus. :)

#10 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:42 AM:

People who complain about this are deficient in their knowledge of hagiography. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of thieves and pawnbrokers, the former of which have been euphemistically known as Saint Nicholas' clerks or Knights of Saint Nicholas.

This is very obviously an act of devotion.

#11 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:50 AM:

Well, this explains what my husband and I saw Saturday afternoon on First Avenue between the Lusty Lady and the Pike Place Market on our way to pick up the week's mail.

We says about 30 to 40 Santas - some dressed in a very doctrinaire fashion, some less so. One had a green crinoline and there was one reindeer (person in a brown suit with horns, not actual deer). One of the Santas had a sign, "Will Ho for Beer".

We figured we'd never know what was happening. But we were wrong.

#12 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 02:03 AM:

Seattle has been host to drunken santa rampages for the last few years, it's generally people connected to the cacophony mailing list. There's a large crossover with the performance art/burning man/ christmas tree burn contingent.

These are also the people who celebrate the Brides of March, on or about 3/15 every year. Similar thing really, except that they've been marrying and divorcing various Seattle landmarks (Hammering man, The Space Needle) and wearing wedding dresses.

#14 ::: M.E. Russell ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 03:36 AM:

I recently got to watch some of the Portland SantaCon people make terrifying hybrid toys to distribute to passers-by during their drunken tear through the city.

Quietly deranged Burning Man, enginneer and social-justice types gathered at a house with crates of toys rescued from thrift-shop bins (many of them Happy Meal discards) , piled them high on tables, tore them apart, set to them with glue-guns, and made two sets of gifts -- unnerving hyrids for the kids (mostly involving the cavalier switching of heads and bodies) and wildy phallic and pornographic toys for the adults. Footballs were transformed into sex toys. Some of it was surreal and artful. There were a surprising number of sacred-cow-flaying 9/11 memorials. It was a hell of a thing to watch; they cranked out dozens if not hundreds of these fast-art pieces in just a few hours, only to give them away a week or two later.

(Those so inclined may view my rather tame comic-strip field report on the evening here. Sadly, I couldn't draw the nipple clamps one of the participants was wearing for much of the evening. Family newspaper and all that.)

#15 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 09:52 AM:

Christmas isn't about Santa for me, which is probably because I grew up in the Philippines, which is basically Santa-free. The christmas cult I was indoctrinated into is different from the christmas cult my children are being indoctrinated into. They believe in Santa, although Santa only brings us 1 gift each at Christmas; they get a lot of gifts from us (parents).
What puzzles me is that christmas seems more fun when I was poorer, and lived in a poorer environment. I guess the gifts, both buying and getting, had a bigger impact.

#16 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 10:33 AM:

Santarchy links (as well as our family xmas tradition, the Norad Santa tracker - as soon as she sees him by the Statue, she dives for bed and starts making snoring noises)

#17 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 11:52 AM:

I'm imagining the poor family that books a wedding in the same hotel as Santacon. Grandma, Mom, Dad, the kid brother all wait for the elevator, which comes, filled to the rafters with riotous Santas. They turn, mumbling to each other about how odd -that- was, wait for the next car, get in when it comes, and are immediately joined by three or four more Santas, none on their best behavior. The Wedding Family gets off on the third floor, makes their way past the Santacon registration (Santas in various stages of santification greeting each other with hugs and profanity) to the Essex Ballroom, where the family daughter is being married, Mom muttering to Grandma that she hopes none of =them= try to crash the wedding...

#18 ::: Murph ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 12:12 PM:

In Iceland he's 13 trolls (which would make a great name for a band):

"The seventh to arrive is door Slammer, he gets his kicks from slamming doors and making noise, using every chance he gets to disturb peoples sleep Then the nimber eight is curd Glutton (Skyr Gobbler), dairy products are his favorite and if stored in closed containers he simply breaks through the lid with his fist."


#19 ::: Tom S ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:19 PM:

I was a participant in the original "Night Of The Santas", staged by the then one-and-only San Francisco Cacophony Society (Previously the San Francisco Suicide Club).

I had been asked by a friend to act as Santa for a group of underpriviledged children, and had been provided with a Big Red Suit for the event. Another friend called to invite me to the mass Claus-in ("You don't happen to own a Santa Claus suit, do you?"), and having nothing else to do, I went.

Compared with later versions, it was mild. Only one brush with law enforcement occured, when a Santa apparently exposed himself on an upper level of the Emporium on Market Street.

#20 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 01:32 PM:

Anyone interested in more detail concerning the 19th Century PR campaign to convert the drunken hijinks of traditional Chistmas into a quiet family holiday should check out Stephen Nissenbaum's fascinating scholarly history The Battle For Christmas. (Amazon link here).

Personally, I think we ought to revive the old tradition of Callithumpian bands (see the bottom of this page), if for no other reason than to ensure that the delightful word "callithumpian" doesn't disappear from the language.

#21 ::: MsMolly ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 02:24 PM:

I was on the F train a couple of years ago when the car filled with drunken Santas. It was awesome! Nothing about the holiday has put such a big smile on my face since I was a little kid.

#22 ::: Sajia ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 06:06 PM:

Am I the only one to notice that St. Nick shares the same name as a certain other pagan figure (who, in contrast to father Christmas, has literally been demonized?)

#23 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2004, 10:55 PM:

The Cacophony Society has many links with fandom, some more obvious than others. So the con in Santacon almost undoubtedly comes from us.

#24 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2004, 10:42 AM:

I'm having a "I hate christmas" day. Just wanted to partake of some of non-christmas cheer in this threea. Ah, that feels better.

I've been thinking, since the festival christmas came from was originally to celebrate the the winter solstice, and since I hate the cold of winter, I would probably be happier having a festival in mid-winter. Maybe groundhog day will do.

Anyone want to help me make a festival to St Phil? That lovable groundhog that brings gifts to good kids in February?

#25 ::: Michail Velichanksy ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 12:43 PM:

I have an issue with this, but it has nothing to do with trying preserve traditional xmas. Though, I think I'd like to have the nice quiet xmas preserved. I'd like a nice quiet any-damn-thing preserved.

See, this whole thing sounds fun, until you actually have to deal with a bunch of drunken idiots dressed as Santa. They may or may not be idiots when sober, but when there's that many of them, you can be certain they will idiots when drunk.

Printed on vomit bags? Lovely. Though I'm sure many of them will not bother using them. Nor, I think, will all of them bother with actually using toilets. I could be wrong.

When I lived in a college dorm, I had to deal with large groups of drunk people all the time. It gets old very, very quickly.

So, I'm all for keeping the nice, PR-based xmas. I'm for anything that encourages people get drunk in their own damn homes and out of my face.

#26 ::: David Goldfarb sees comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 04:29 AM:

Spam takes no holidays, alas.

#27 ::: Bill Blum finds more comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2004, 12:27 PM:

Yet more spam.

#28 ::: Tom Whitmore finds more comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 02:28 AM:

I wonder why this thread is getting hit so efficiently?

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2004, 01:39 PM:


Let evildoers beware.

Tom, if previous experience holds true, they're using this comment thread as the test case for a more extensive spamming to come.

ˇNo pasarán!

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