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In Defense of SantaCon

Posted on December 12, 2015

This weekend, groups of twenty- and thirtysomethings decked out in cheap Santa costumes will march drunkenly through the streets of New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities. These roving bands of merrymakers began as a novel distraction from the usual holiday shopping and family gatherings. But over two decades, SantaCon has morphed into something more exasperating, and the same people that once embraced the event have started calling for an end to the shenanigans.

The public’s annoyance with SantaCon is understandable. Started in San Francisco in 1994 as a one-off act of performance art meant to “take Christmas back from consumerists,” as co-creator John Law described it to the Village Voice last year, it has mutated into something much larger and louder. Where Law and his friends had dropped in on a Macy’s and high-class ball at the Fairmont Hotel, the thousands of Santas joining in the fun more recently stumble only from one bar to the next. Instead of singing carols and dancing with old ladies, like the original SantaCon crew, these dollar-store Santas must be warned not to “roam the streets urinating, littering, vomiting, and vandalizing,” as New York Police Department Lt. John Cocchi wrote in a release. It’s become a sloppier and less creative Halloween parade. St. Patrick’s Day with jingle bells.

Last year, the bars of Bushwick, Brooklyn, banned the event. A group called Boycott SantaCon launched a campaign urging local business owners to “prohibit from your bar anyone dressed as Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, sexy Claus, elves, sexy elves, reindeer, sexy reindeer, snowmen, sexy snowmen, candy canes, sexy candy canes, Krampus, sexy Krampus, or any other holiday-themed costume or sexy variant of that costume.” This year, controversy has flared in San Francisco, where bar and restaurant owners have been placing signs in their windows reading “No Love for SantaCon.”

But while these Santas clearly need some boundaries, critics go too far in pushing to ban the event altogether. Two years ago, Jason O. Gilbert wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times that, “SantaCon is distinctive, and arguably impressive, in that it contributes absolutely zero value—cultural, artistic, aesthetic, diversionary, culinary or political—to its host neighborhood. Quite simply, SantaCon is a parasite.”

This is not totally fair. In fact, the debauched idiocy of SantaCon offers spectators some surprising cultural and historic value. Specifically, it serves as a peek into how Christmas began in the United States. Despite complaints that these sloppy Santas degrade the holidays, they actually embody their original spirit in many ways.

Read the rest at Slate.

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