I started my SantaCon 2011 at 10am, catching a cab to the Manhattan morning meeting spot: North Cove Marina at Battery Park City. There were already a few dozen Santas; within an hour there were hundreds. The cans and boxes for the Food Bank for NY collection were piling up at the feet of the Marines, there representing Toys for Tots, which would be receiving 10% of proceeds from many of the day’s visited bars. The mob milled about for an hour or so, admiring each other’s outfits and posing for photos.
By 11am Santa was on the move, promenading along the waterfront from the Marina around the tip of Battery Park, then up Stone Street. It was a seething mass of Santas, every block clogged with jolly old elves. The eventual destination was South Street Seaport, which within an hour became completely overrun by revelers in red. Upon arrival, this Santa spotted her favorite Santa from last year and got a little reunion kiss, then headed straight to Sequoia, where special arrangements had been made with the manager. He had promised Santa two open floors, bars on the balcony, plus their three private party rooms: a few thousand square feet for Santa to get his drink on. And…the guy had totally lied. Only one floor was open and Santa wasn’t even welcome there. How the hell, I gotta ask, in this economy, could someone turn down a $20k bar take? Does the manager hate Santa that much? Talk about bah humbug! Whatever. We took our business upstairs to the beer garden, where there was even more space, enormous $6 beers in “go cups” and amazing views! Santa also patronized just about every other establishment in the building; in addition to the hundreds of beers bought, lunches were wolfed down and Santa was even spotted picking up a few extra holiday accessories.
After a long enough while for Santa to eat, drink and rest, the hoards descended upon City Hall Park, where police attempted to deny Santa access. So many people were flowing through — and past — the park en route to the Lexington Line that things didn’t get too out of hand. From there, Santa took the subway to Grand Central Station.
The Main Concourse filled up with the festive mob, prompting concern from police and the eventual arrival of paddy wagons along 42nd Street, with much wailing of sirens and flashing of lights.
Santas strolled from Grand Central to the steps of the Public Library, where candy was handed out to children, portraits were shot with the lions and, soon enough, riot police on scooters lined up across Fifth Avenue. Is Santa all that scary? This elf took the hint and made a bee line for the bars. Unfortunately, both of my desired destinations, District 36 and Rick’s Cabaret, had lines down the block, so I dragged a few fellow Santas to the Radisson Hotel bar (including that aforementioned favorite Santa). It was a welcome respite with no other Santas vying for beers or the bathroom. Smiling management, happy for the additional — and creatively costumed — customers was an additional bonus.
After we’d slaked our thirst and had plenty of time off our feet, Santa decided to try and catch up with the rest of the crowd in Times Square. The Crossroads of the World, already a crushing mass of commuters, tourists and shoppers, became even more bustling with the addition of so many Santas. Sadly, the police guarding the glowing red staircase above Tkts refused to let Santa assemble there, saying, “People want to get their pictures taken.” Santa bellowed, of course, “Well so does Santa!” But instead, no one got their picture taken on the stairs, as they were blocked off completely. Boo!
At this point things had completely deteriorated. We’d lost the critical mass of Santas. not to mention experiencing the effects of mind-altering substances, so we headed back over to Grand Central to take the downtown train. Re-emerging at Union Square, Santa zig-zagged to Avenue A, where there had been a takeover of Tompkins Square Park…that we missed. Undaunted, we crammed into Doc Holiday’s with a convivial crew of sweaty Santas for cheap beers, country music and some more time off our boots.
By about 11pm the full day of Santa antics was wearing on all of us. I brought a bunch of Santas back to my apartment to “regroup” but that quickly became a full-on crash-out. Everyone weighed the options of attending Rubulad, the official SantaCon after party, or Gratitude, a less official but no less welcoming event for spent Santas. Me? I couldn’t make it another minute and opted to stay put, calling it a day after a dozen hours of SantaConning.
Overall it was a most successful celebration. The sun shone brightly on the estimated 10,000 Santas, over three tons of food were collected for the Food Bank for NY, Toys for Tots will benefit from the thousands of dollars raised, Santas met and befriended new Santas and a holly, jolly time was had by all. Though most write-ups and reviews of this event tend to emphasize the drinking aspect, I prefer to appreciate not only the creativity and enthusiasm people bring to SantaCon but the wonder it inspires.
From a personal viewpoint, it was easy to tell the veterans from the amateurs. I’d filled a plastic spray bottle with peppermint schnapps and vanilla vodka, then tinted it with green food coloring, calling it my “peppermint spray” (to complement my Peppermint Queen ensemble). Those who were down with the program just opened their mouths in anticipation of their spritz; the clueless cringed as though I was going to truly pepper spray them or hid behind their hands in fear. One guy really overreacted: “I think you’re giving out AIDS!” he squeaked as he scampered away. Yeah, I’m spraying HIV into peoples’ mouths with a $1.99 plastic bottle covered in Christmas wrapping. Uh-huh. Cause as everyone knows, peppermint schnapps transmits the deadly virus!
I was kind of shocked how paranoid Santa was, given that, well, we were all in on the same joke. Sigh. My only other negative interaction of the day was with a big beefy Santa at about 11:15am, somewhere between North Cove and South Street Seaport. It wasn’t even an hour into the event and he was already bitching about wanting to go to a bar, so I tapped him on the shoulder. “Santa,” I told him, “there are bars everywhere in Manhattan. If you want a beer, go to one.” I guess he hadn’t gotten the memo that SantaCon isn’t a bar crawl. “Who the fuck are you?” the guy sneered. “And are you a man or a woman?” Yeah, that’s right, buddy. Play that unidentifiable gender card, cause it is soooo enlightened.
Anyway…sure, Santa has gotten an increasingly bad reputation over the years for being a bunch of drunken, puking frat boys and Barbie dolls in Victoria’s Secret Ms. Claus skimpiness. But there are some of us out there who take our costuming and our SantaConning pretty damn seriously. We don’t dress up in denim or act like assholes, puke or impugn. We get there early, food drive cans in hand, shepherd the Santas and slurp up every second of this most festive –and my most favorite — of days! HO HO HO!