Yesterday was the annual event known as Santacon in New York City. Thousands and thousands of people clad in Santa suits, as well as other seasonally appropriate costumes (Buddy the Elf is a perennial favorite, and for those of the Jewish persuasion, some human dreidels can always be counted on to show up), cavort throughout the city. And sometimes the outfits bear no discernible relation to this time of year. For example, one of my favorite participants yesterday was the person dressed as a giant Chiquita banana. So the sea of red was interrupted by a giant yellow fruit.
The movements of the thousands of Santas are not random. A mysterious behind-the-scenes leader periodically tweets instructions indicating where in the city the throng should next assemble (an example of an actual tweet from yesterday is “Santa’s on the move! Point your sleigh toward the red steps at Times Square.”). In between those official check-ins, the Santaconners file into bars that are near the previous meeting point. Sometimes the organizer tweets suggestions as to where the Santas should imbibe. Said imbibing begins as early as 10:00 a.m., and is, of course, a major part of the day’s activities. However, Santacon is so much more than a mere pub crawl.
As with a more conventional pub crawl, the actual getting around involves a considerable amount of walking. Sometimes, however, the distance to be traversed is just too great, and the Santas must descend underground to ride the subway. Chants such as “Santa rides the 6!” (a reference to the number 6 subway line that serves the East side of Manhattan) are not uncommon in that situation. Hordes of Santas pour into the subway trains, much to the befuddlement of the non-Santacon-affiliated passengers on board; and the rides tend to be punctuated with (often dissonant) caroling.
The greatness that is Santacon is not confined to the Big Apple, although New York City’s version of this festival of debauchery is by far the biggest (I have not yet seen any attendance figures for yesterday’s iteration of the New York City Santacon; but I’ve heard that in 2010 the turnout was estimated at 10,000). While other cities cannot match New York for sheer volume of participation, Santacons are now held in 32 countries around the world. According to the offical website, even denizens of McMurdo Station in Antarctica participate in one (yes, McMurdo Station is the same place to which I aspire to travel to make Antarctica the seventh continent on my World Karoke Tour. And yes, the good people down there are really on the wrong pole to be hosting a Kris Kringle-oriented event).
This was my fourth consecutive year taking part in Santacon. Even so, I’m an upstart compared to my friend Laney, who was Santaconning for the seventh time. I’m also known for my stubborn refusal to attend in costume: I wear a Santa hat, and that’s it. I always justify my costumelessness by saying that I’m along to shoot photos and videos that I will then upload to flickr and Facebook (and now I post them on my blog too!). So I still add value to the event. 🙂
For the 2011 edition of Santacon, the day began at two different starting locations: one at a marina on the Hudson in lower Manhattan, and the other in Brooklyn Bridge Park. I chose the location in downtown Manhattan, since it would be somewhat easier to get to from my Upper East Side apartment. I joined a sizable contingent of Santas at Marina Cove, a pleasant waterfront area on the Hudson River, behind the World Financial Center. Eventually (after some time spent in various watering holes near the Marina Cove), it was time for all the Santas to move on. The word went out over Twitter that all the Santas were to converge on the South Street Seaport. So thousands of red-costumed revelers, together with their assorted sidekicks, made their way through the tangled warren of streets in lower Manhattan. Meanwhile, the Santacon cohort that had started in Brooklyn Bridge Park trekked across the Brooklyn Bridge to also end up at the South Street Seaport. I kind of regretted not beginning in Brooklyn myself (even though to do so would have required me to awaken at a ridiculously early hour), as it would have been nice to see all the Santas marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe next year . . .
Incidentally, one of my all-time favorite Santacon moments occurred during the stroll over to the South Street Seaport. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Santas were walking down the street. A young kid, maybe eight years old, was standing in front of a building and watching the procession of Santas. The kid yelled out, “Are you the real one?”
Anyhoo, after a long interlude at the Seaport and some of its many bars and restaurants, the Santas moved on to occupy City Hall Park. Or at least they occupied it until the NYPD arrived on the scene and announced that the park was being closed. Then the scene shifted to Grand Central Terminal. The concourse at Grand Central is famously crowded; indeed, the very name of the station has become synonymous with huddled masses of humanity. But even during rush hour, you will rarely see the cavernous room packed as tightly it was yesterday afternoon. And amid the profusion of Santaconners, a brass band was present to to provide live entertainment to whoever was lucky enough to be on hand:
This musical ensemble was the Hungry March Band, based in Brooklyn.
Following Grand Central, the next announced stop on the itinerary was the steps of the nearby New York Public Library. Those stairs are famously flanked by the twin marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. Sadly, by the time I had arrived in front of the library, the Santas were gone from the steps. In their place were some of New York’s finest, standing watch. It appeared that what had occurred in City Hall Park had happened again. There was only one thing to do: repair to a nearby bar for some much-needed libations.
From that pitstop, it was on to the red TKTS steps at Times Square (the subject of the tweet quoted above). Here again, the Santas had already been banished from the steps by the time my friends and I showed up. This was becoming a recurring theme. So we boarded the subway and headed to the final official checkpoint of the day: Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.
Despite the repeated appearances by the police, there were few incidents of the type that would put Santacon in a bad light; and none of the evacuations directed by the NYPD resulted in any confrontations or violence. For a humongous aggregation of drunken and exuberant Santas, Santacon tends to be remarkably devoid of misbehavior. Sure, there’s the occasional Bad Santa; but most people who participate are just trying to spread holiday cheer, and remain well-behaved. The worst offense that most Santaconners are likely to commit is a violation of the open container law (I may or may not have committed that offense myself). 🙂 I want to stress, though, that I understand where the police were coming from in their efforts to maintain order. I have a great deal of respect for the NYPD, which has done so much to keep this city safe — especially in light of the threats we’ve faced from would-be terrorists in recent years; and I’m sure the NYPD would rather not have to deal with the headache of the potential for undesirable outcomes that is inherent in a sizable flash-mob such as Santacon. And the important thing is that Santacon went on, and a good time was had by all.
Naturally, given the subject matter of my blog, my day of Santacon would somehow have to culminate in karaoke. So, I eschewed the “official” Santacon afterparty, a ticketed event in Brooklyn that I strongly suspected would be too hipsterish a scene for me. Instead, after making an appearance in Tompkins Square Park, I remained in the East Village. I hit two bars in that area. The first was just some random pub, where I had a nice enough time and met some interesting people. The second was Sing Sing, a popular karaoke establishment on St. Marks Place (Sing Sing has an additional location nearby on Avenue A).
So, during karaoke, some guy started singing the Blink-182 song, “All the Small Things.” Suddenly, an admittedly attractive young woman just grabbed the microphone from his hands, carried it to the other end of the bar, and started singing the song herself. She hijacked his song! Eventually the original singer reclaimed the mic and finished singing. He then approached the woman and asked her why she had committed her brazen act of microhpone-thievery. “I’m better than you,” she responded. She may have had a point (although, curiously, she didn’t submit any songs of her own to sing).
Given that I was trying to make a good impression on strangers, my own set-list at Sing Sing included three
H-Bomb standards: “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel; “La Bamba” (the Los Lobos version from the soundtrack of the 1987 movie); and “True” by Spandau Ballet. No one dispossessed me of the mic while I was singing.
Below are some additional photos that depict a few of the highlights from the latest NYC Santacon: