There were 33 Santa clones at the original event in 1994. We started the evening by crashing a high-society party in a fancy San Francisco hotel. Streaming in thru a service entrance, we grabbed bottles of champagne off the tables, clambered onto the stage and did a chorus-line dance while the band (assuming we were a paid act), played ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’. It was a short time before security arrived to herd us out. After that, Santa went to a strip club. We continued the evening by mobbing several other downtown businesses.
“In the beginning, it was not a bar crawl, It was culture jamming in its purest form.” -M2
When the event was repeated in 1995, we began to push the envelope as the number of Santas climbed up to 100. The evening started with a Santa vs kids snowball fight at an outdoor skating rink. Then Santa went up to the top floor of the Emporium department store, where the store had setup a children’s playland, complete with a small ferris wheel to draw shoppers in. We filled the tiny ferris wheel with rowdy Santas until security showed up. Then, streaming into nearby Macys department store, a hundred Santas packed the escalators chanting “Charge it!” The Santas moved quickly thru downtown until the police finally arrived when a mob of Santas stopped to hang Santa from a Market Street lamppost.
The evening ended when Santa crashed the San Francisco Chronicle Christmas party held at the Legion of Honor. The toll that night was 3 Santas arrested.
In 1996, we took SantaCon to Portland. The local authorities had already been alerted and Santa had a police escort everywhere he went. When Santa arrived at the shopping mall, it was very surreal to see a line of riot squad police in full gear blocking the entrance.
The 1996 SantaCon event is chronicled in this 40-minute documentary video by Scott Beale: “You’d Better Watch Out”
It was also in 1996 that I created the first Twisted Toy Workshop, an idea that spread with the early SantaCon events. We would cut up scores of thrift-store toys and re-assemble them in weird forms with hot melt glue. Then we put them in boxes and gift-wraped them with pages from old Playboy magazines. These gifts were handed out to adults that Santa encountered along the SantaCon route. I always kept a few unwrapped unmodified toys in my bag, in case I encountered any actual kids during our rampage. One time, I was surrounded by three policemen as they carefully watched while I pulled the ‘safe’ toys out of my bag and handed them to several excited children.
In 1997, SantaCon grew significantly when more than 300 Cacophony Society members from San Francisco, Portland and Seattle converged on Los Angeles. This monumental event was documented by Bikini Magazine: Social Distortion
By 1998, SantaCons were held in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Portland, Chicago and New York City. The next year, Seattle was added to the list. After that, SantaCon spread rapidly across the US and to other countries. It was beyond our control, but the event continued to erode the moral character that America knew as good ol’ Saint Nick.
But as SantaCon spread, it began to take on new significance as a celebratory social gathering.
SantaCon in LA 2002 was truly magical. It combined anarchy, making people smile, patriotism. Starting in the morning, with elves vs Santa snowball fights, smiling and waving at people all day, visiting the Scientology headquarters and filling it with Santas, where Santas changed the white board signs. Those were festive all-day events.
Three buses full of Santas made numerous stops in the city of angels, including Scientology’s Winter Wonderland, were Santa Nonymous climbed on top of a bus with a bullhorn and held this sermon: “We have a dream! Our dream is to take Santa back. You shouldn’t just accept the Santa you were given. He is a figure invented to control and scare you. There is no one Santa flying around the North Pole… we are ALL Santa!” -Santa Nonymous
In 2004, SantaCon was observed at McMurdo Station in Antarctica: Santa Sandwich in Antarctica. Santa Sandwich in Antarctica.
In 2008, I pushed SantaCon into the virtual world of Second Life. There were a dozen Santas hitting the populated hangouts. Santa was running a drunken avatar script with snow effects.
By the year 2014, the Red Tide had claimed more than 350 cities and 49 countries. It has grown and morphed and devolved and evolved way beyond it’s original roots and intentions.
Santa has gone from pretending to be drunk to being drunk. We have succeeded in destroying the old image of Santa even while SantaCon itself has been commercialized.
But there is a greater cultural phenomena evolving here. SantaCon has become a mainstream event with its own unique meaning. It’s one of the best examples of the Optimal Distinctiveness Theory: the struggle for social distinction. Within the cohesive oneness of the Red Tide, there are great displays of individuality.
And yet, we are all Santa!
“I love meeting new people and drinking in the middle of the day, it gets crazy in the best way. I’m just hoping to survive the day with all of my Santa compatriots. That’s the spirit of SantaCon.”
In my closet, I have a costume box labeled ‘Bad Santa’ but I haven’t done SantaCon for many years.
This year I decided to do SantaCon again, but with a new outfit. This year I returned as Krampus.
On December 25th, 2015, Pope Francis denounced consumerism and extravagance. What demon have we unleashed here? I believe that SantaCon is an indicator of the shift from a consumption economy to an experience economy. I believe in Santa.
“Don’t fuck with Santa, he has crazy old man Strength.” –Simon Gold