Osius column: From one Santa to another
Last night as I entered a gym, I spied a tiny elfin figure across the room in a Santa suit. Better yet, the slender, barefoot 18-month-old darting about was the son of a friend, Lauren. I hurried to greet her, and reflexively swept up the small Santa, whose name is Ryder and who screamed bloody murder.
Sheepishly, I released him, but I remembered another baby Santa consigned to wear whatever was put on him. Our older son’s first Christmas rolled around when he was 3 months old.
A few days before that Christmas, I shook out the small Santa outfit and saw that it was missing its hat. As a child I used to put on living-room plays with sibs and neighborhood kids, and drum up costumes, so I just visited the Carbondale thrift shop and looked around, found a pair of little girl’s red tights, turned them upside down and cut off the legs, tied the aperture together and stuck on a medical cotton ball or two.
As my visiting family convened Christmas Day, the baby sat blankly in his swing, in his belted red suit with the ersatz Santa hat. I thought it was a pretty good outfit, though my sister Lucy later said, “He’s bummed because he has pantyhose on his head.”
Now that infant is 23, has a job in finance and lives with two friends in a small apartment in lower Manhattan. As I write, he is about to don a red Santa suit again, because near his place is SantaCon, an absurdist event in which thousands of millennials wear Santa suits and embark on a pub crawl.
I asked if all his friends were going, and he replied, “Everyone. It’s a huge event. Hundreds and hundreds of Santas.”
SantaCon rages through many dozens of major cities. The website santacon.info lists 135 such around the world. The event, writes Time.com, “has been notoriously rowdy and sometimes loathed by locals, especially in New York City” — the biggest iteration, supposedly drawing 30,000. Participants are nominally urged to donate to charity, though the New York website asks just $10 per person, and a food drive of the past no longer occurs because “it was a pain for Santa to organize.”
On Facebook, I see 18 pages for various SantaCon events, some purporting to be at the North Pole, others in Providence, Stamford, Tucson, Ashville, Corvallis, Madison (that’s a university one) and San Francisco — where the event started in 1994 as a sort of performance art intended to delight onlookers and decry commercialism. There is a Gay SantaCon, and one for learning Santa Pole Dancing. One in El Paso calls itself “Wilder, Drunker, Badder,” and the one in Austin sings “Naughty Carols.”
In Manhattan, Santas gather at 10 a.m. and sweep off to over 50 participating bars in the East Village, and that’s before the Midtown segment even starts. The website instructs participants to wear proper Santa regalia (“none of that ‘just a hat’ [crap]”) and behave according to a Santa code: “Santa spreads joy, not terror. Not vomit. Not trash.”
The code expounds, “Should you find yourself in conflict with a drunken Santa, walk away. Just let it go. … Santa respects the city: Santa doesn’t piss on the streets, start fights, block streets, climb on cars, or deface property.”
I text my son after reading that a consortium of concerned New York residents have papered fake fliers across the venues saying the event was canceled. He tosses back, “Nerds.”
He’s busy setting out, grabbing breakfast on the way. I text, “As Uncle John once told your cousin, who was going [with friends] to New Orleans, ‘Someone is going to get arrested. Just don’t let it be you.’”
“Chill out, Mom.”
He adds, “There are lots of Santas and elves in this bagel shop.”
It sounds like trouble, but also a rousing spectacle. Maybe, I muse, he will meet a nice Mrs. Claus, a smiling lass in a fur-trimmed dress. I just hope he doesn’t have cotton balls on his head.
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of every month. Alison Osius is a climber, skier and magazine editor in Carbondale. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.