A light snow is falling faintly on New York City, a reminder that the holidays, and their attendant festive cheer, are nigh. But there are many bad Christmas traditions in New York, the worst of which may be SantaCon. And as I watch the white whirlwind outside my window, my mind drifts darkly toward SantaCon NYC 2014, commencing at a yet-to-be-announced location this Saturday. I can’t help it.
SantaCon began, in the organization’s own words, as a “culture-jamming event created by the Cacaphony society to point out the absurdity of America’s consumerist holiday traditions.” But in the twenty years hence, the parade has become an absurd holiday tradition itself, more notable for the sexism, public drunkenness, indecent acts, spillage of bodily fluids, and flagrant disregard for the general polity displayed by some noticeable percentage of its approximately 30,000 participants. The backlash has peaked this year, with multiple neighborhoods repudiating SantaCon, and a litany of garment-rending, teeth-gnashing op-eds asking what we have done to deserve this red-suited scourge.
Now come signs that SantaCon’s organizers have heard the people’s complaints. The organization released a statement noting that the event is “in a transition process” and touting the money they have raised for non-profits like Toys for Tots and local food banks as well as the increased economic activity the Santas bring to area bars, restaurants, and delis. The statement continues:
While this event will always poke fun at society and the overly-commercialized aspects of the holiday (culture jamming), Santa and the Elves are working closely with city officials, the Parks Department and NYPD on better formats to manage the event while growing it as a much beloved annual tradition for the city.
SantaCon also announced that they have retained famed civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who was last seen defending Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was forcibly quarantined in New Jersey under the flimsy rationalization that she might have been exposed to Ebola. Siegel told Gothamist that “SantaCon is trying to do is reduce any of the negative aspects…people need to be able to express themselves and do it within the parameters of the First Amendment.”
A SantaCon organizer also spoke with Gothamist, on the condition of anonymity (!), about the public backlash to the event, saying that SantaCon is “looking to change a lot this year,” although he declined to elaborate on what specific changes would look like. The organizer admitted that while there are some bad apples, it is “probably .01 percent of Santas that act inappropriately, but when you have 30,000 people that’s 30 people, and it’s easy to take a picture of them.” Organizers are promoting the hashtag #DontScroogeSantaCon this year in an attempt to curb bad behavior.
The anonymous SantaCon organizer also said that the organization is exploring ways to transition to an officially-sanctioned event in the future, much like the Halloween Parade, which began as an unauthorized street party before becoming an official parade in 1985. Siegel, who helped guide the Dance Parade through a similar legitimization, is helping with the transition. “It’s a spectacular display to behold. I believe we need a little bit of culture-jamming in our world before our city turns into a big mall,” goes the cri de coeur from the anonymous organizer. “We have children and families and dogs that come to the beginning of the event.”
Ha. The beginning.
SantaCon begins this Saturday, at 10 a.m., and ends when the culture is sufficiently jammed or too many Santas have passed out, whichever comes first. The route will be announced on “SantaCon Eve” at the organization’s website. Maybe check it before you venture outside this Saturday.
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.