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SantaCon NYC returns on Dec. 9, 2017, with

SantaCon NYC returns on Dec. 9, 2017, with rules and guidelines of its own that only insiders know. (Credit: Getty Images / Kena Betancur)

culture

SantaCon in NYC: Dealing with Scrooges, impostors, more

95 Prospect Park West, New York, NY 11215

Chances are, this has happened to you: You're on the subway and, suddenly, hundreds of Santas appear out of nowhere, bringing a little more than holiday cheer.

SantaCon has gained a reputation for being a wild and obnoxious -- yet entertaining -- way to celebrate the season.

"Yes, it's big and rowdy, but it's also one of the things that makes New York City great," said Jim Glaser, who has been participating in SantaCon since 2000. Glaser is the founder of street-theater club Kostume Kult, a group that has been involved with SantaCon and other art-focused events in the city.

"We want it to be about the merriment and giving spirit," SantaCon organizer Eliza Spear said. "It's not for everyone."

As it turns out, there's a lot more to the gathering than simply raising a glass -- or many more -- to the holidays. SantaCon has rituals and quirks of its own that only insiders know.

Credit: Getty Images

SantaCon prep involves bars stocking lots of beer

"We'll sell about 60 percent more beer" during SantaCon than on an average Saturday, Sal Rosenberg, who managed 230 Fifth, a participating SantaCon stop for several years, said ahead of the event in 2016.

Rosenberg had said the Flatiron bar, not pictured, served nearly 5,000 customers between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. in years past.

"We hire more hosts and increase security," Rosenberg had said. "We order more backup beer trucks." A participant this year as well, the restaurant also stops taking reservations and halts its brunch service to accommodate the Santas.

Take loud, drunk people, throw in a Santa

Credit: Getty Images / Kena Betancur

SantaCon has no problem with Scrooges

Take loud, drunk people, throw in a Santa suit and you've got yourself an extra cringeworthy group of people -- to the Scrooges of New York, at least. "Some establishments and neighborhoods say 'no' to Santa, and we respect that," Spear said. "We want Santa to be welcome back because they were respectful to the area. So, we try hard to keep the message, 'Don't be that Santa.'"

Participants are encouraged to respect security, the NYPD and the community -- whether they all actually follow through or not is another story. In 2015, the NYPD warned that bad behavior would end with a Santa in handcuffs.

Christmas just might come early if you run

Credit: Jim Glaser

Be ready for tipsy gifting

Christmas just might come early if you run into a Santa this Saturday. Some SantaCon participants take part in the group's gift swap, a tradition started by the "old timers," Glaser said. Santas will bring and wrap their own presents to hand out to each other and to people they run into throughout the day. "We encourage self-made gifts, whether they're cards or ornaments . . . or coal," Glaser said. They color-code the wrapping paper to keep track of which gifts are kid-friendly.

They may seem like they're up to no

Credit: Getty Images / Kena Betancur

It’s not just about drinking ... really

They may seem like they're up to no good (which very well may be true, for some Santas), but the gang dressed in red has helped raise more than $200,000 for NYC charities over four years, Spear said in 2016. The $10 entry fee helps get you into bars along the crawl and leaves a bit left over for a donation. Last year's charities included Boys Town, Urban Pathways and Materials for the Arts in New York.

SantaCon spinoffs are encouraged -- there's also ZombieCon,

Credit: Jim Glaser

SantaCon has sister spinoffs

SantaCon spinoffs are encouraged -- there's also ZombieCon, KlownyCon (a play on the creepy clown craze) and the BunnyHop. These crawls are a part of the participatory culture art movement the Kostume Kult arts collective hopes to make more common in the city. "We're a bit outrageous, but that's our point," Glaser said.

It's more about creating living art than getting drunk -- or at least it's supposed to be, he said. As new generations join in on SantaCon, its roots and message become hazy, he added.

Throwing on a Santa hat and yelling

Credit: AFP Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary, Jim Glaser

There’s a wacky dress code

Throwing on a Santa hat and yelling "ho ho ho" doesn't automatically turn you into Kriss Kringle. Everyone at SantaCon doesn't have to don the traditional suit, but they do have to dress up to show their spirit. The theme is red, but elves, Christmas trees, reindeer and other costumes work, too.

"An acceptable SantaCon outfit is head to toe red leggings, pants or tights and the coat," Spear said. "But, the most impressive is in the morning seeing a sea full of creative Santas. We've had Run-D.M.C. Santas with chains, potato latkes Santas with a dollop of sour cream in the middle, pirate Santas, zombie Santas, snow globe Santas."

Before social media, SantaCon was a word-of-mouth, invitation-only

Credit: AFP Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

Social media completely changed SantaCon’s scale

Before social media, SantaCon was a word-of-mouth, invitation-only event. Spear found out about it nine years ago when a group of 40 Santas piled onto the 6 train, she said. At that time, the event was organized via email exchanges. Now, Facebook groups, Snapchat stories and Instagram posts pop up come December to spread the word.

"Social media has tremendously changed [SantaCon]," Spear said. "Everyone sees their friends getting dressed up and they say, 'I want to do that, too.'" Social media has helped NYC's gathering become one of the most popular in the nation, with nearly 20,000 revelers per year.

There's magic in the holidays, so there's a

Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Why SantaCon locations are kept secret

There's magic in the holidays, so there's a little magic in SantaCon, too. Like Santa dropping off presents on Christmas Eve, the organizers keep the list of bars they'll be hitting secret until the night before. "It's like the anticipation of Christmas morning," Spear said. "We keep the magic by waiting until the last minute."

Don't beat up on the little guys. They

Credit: Getty Images / Stephanie Keith

It’s tradition: Elves take most of the abuse at SantaCon

Don't beat up on the little guys. They work hard gathering and making presents all year to please their jolly boss. "An elf would never actually be expected to do the bidding of a Santa at SantaCon," Spear said. "But sometimes you can't stop Santa from being high and mighty."

The origin of SantaCon is hazy. A group

Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

The organizers are ghostlike, just like the jolly man himself

The origin of SantaCon is hazy. A group of rowdy Santas first gathered in San Francisco in 1994 to ring in the holiday with a good old bar crawl. Three years later, in 1997, the trend popped up in NYC. But it wasn't until recent years that it became as popular as it now is. Glaser recalled SantaCon being a meeting of only 50 Santas back in 2000.

As far as who organizes the event each year, that's kept under wraps, for the most part. "The organizers were interested in the chaos and fun of something happening spontaneously," Spear said. "Whether you're at a bar or a park this would just happen to you. A group of Santas would just show up and you'd say, 'What just happened to me?' "

A group of unpaid organizers, each called Santa, who also participate in the event, begin planning the extravaganza three months in advance, Spear said.

With social media expanding SantaCon's scope, it's become

Credit: iStock

How to know if your SantaCon is an impostor

With social media expanding SantaCon's scope, it's become relatively easy for impostors to try to convince people they're the real deal. "Santa has heard of various websites selling tickets for this event, some of which seem to be bogus," the SantaCon website reads.

If you're not on santacon.nyc, your SantaCon isn't real.

If you know the bar route earlier than one night before the event, your SantaCon isn't real.

If you don't participate in a donation, your SantaCon isn't real.

If you don't have to dress up, your SantaCon isn't real.

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