Ban SantaCon! Inebriated St. Nicks out of control

BY SARAH FERGUSON  |  I want to call this column “Kill Santa!” but I won’t in respect for the slain innocents of Newtown, Connecticut.

But seriously folks: We need to ban SantaCon. This erstwhile Festivus of WTF holiday cheer has morphed into an urban menace that darn near traumatized my 4-year-old son and his two playmates last Saturday night. And it’s got to stop.

Forgive my mommy brain for not realizing when we left the house that this was the slated day for this yuletide extravaganza, in which drunk people dressed up as Santa and his minions converge on bars and locations throughout the city flash-mob style.

In fact we had our own convergence to get to: the 20th annual UnSilent Night procession, a supercool tradition conceived by Lower East Side composer Phil Kline, in which people parade from Washington Square to Tompkins Square Park carrying boomboxes playing tape loops of Klein’s ethereal composition.

It’s a truly magical event — like Christmas caroling, but instead of singing, it’s all about LISTENING to the ebb and flow of the boomboxes playing layers of chiming hand bells, Tibetan bells, xylophones, Trappist monks and Renaissance church psalms over the cacophony of city sidewalks, pretty sidewalks… .

Like SantaCon, UnSilent Night is now held in hundreds of cities worldwide, across four continents! (See .)

I really wanted my son to experience it! We were running late, so my friend Satoko and I decided to take a cab from my apartment off Avenue C in order to arrive in time for the 6:45 p.m. start. Woe unto me, for this was about the same time that thousands of zombie Santas were instructed via txt msg to converge on Williamsburg. It was like trying to catch a cab at 11:30 on New Year’s Eve! The damn Santas kept stealing our cabs!

“Why is Santa drunk?” my bewildered son Christopher Zen asked me. “I don’t like these drunk Santas. These are bad Santas,” he informed me, watching the idiots mobbing bars on Avenue C.

After flailing our arms in the cold for 20 minutes, I finally cornered a limo that was disgorging a posse of inebriated elves outside the car service joint on 11th and C. This driver of MinuteMen limo service was milking SantaCon for all it was worth. He wanted $20 to take us to Washington Square Park, because of the “heavy traffic over there.” Now the damn Santas were inflating all the car fares!

(Isn’t such fare gouging illegal now?)

Cursing, I paid it, but by the time we got to the arch in Washington Square, the  UnSilent Night procession had departed. So my son and his friends Icharo, 6, Tadashi, 4, their mom Satoko, my partner John and I went dashing east through the madding crowds to find them.

But we kept getting waylaid by Santas! There must have been 35,000 Santas on the streets last Saturday night. The NYC SantaCon Faceook page posted 30,550 RSVPs alone!

So there we were, holding hands with two 4-year-olds and a 6-year-old, bravely plowing our way through all the rowdy Santas literally clogging the sidewalks.

They would not move! By this time, I had lost all pretense of mommy cool.

“F— you, Santas!” I screamed. “Santas ride sleighs,” I jeered at the assholes hailing cabs on every corner. “Or at least take public transit!” One jerk actually asked me why I didn’t go “take the bus!”

Since I’d left a CD in my boombox, I decided to blast them with my own soundtrack of roots reggae, including Peter Tosh’s “Steppin’ Razor” — “I’m like a walking razor, don’t you watch my size, I’m dangerous” — which I played loudly  like a machete to clear the path. By this time, it was just Zen and me — we’d lost John, Satoko, Icharo and Tadashi in a clusterf— of Santas outside McSorley’s on E. Seventh St.

But we did run into some really cool Santas, too. Like the Santa who kicked down plastic harmonicas and Frosty the Snowman rings to our munchkins on Avenue A. And we eventually caught the tail end of the UnSilent Night parade, which was super-beautiful and Zen, forcing me to still my anger and LISTEN to the intricate medley of sounds that enveloped us. It felt empty, like the tinkling of glass ornaments blowing in the frosty wind and police sirens swirling.

Once inside Tompkins Square, the randomly assembled processioners shut down their tape decks and quickly dispersed. There was very little pomp and circumstance or holiday revelry whatsoever.

But our small group hung out to eat Trader Joe’s candy cane Oreos and light candles for the 26 children and teachers gunned down in Newton and their families. We had expected to run into some kind of vigil for the dead kids (and teachers), but strangely there was nothing in Tompkins Square. No Hare Krishna wreaths of scattered rose petals around the big tree in the center of the park; no brightly chalked exclamations of outrage and sorrow on the asphalt. Just drunk Santas burping past us.

Then this lovely couple strolled by — a man dressed as an ornate Christmas tree and a woman done up to look like a Nutcracker toy soldier. They asked if they could take pictures of our kids frolicking with their glow sticks around our makeshift memorial.

This SantaCon couple had actually gotten married earlier that day at a bar on the West Side called Hudson Terrace, in a drunken ceremony officiated by an actual Santa reverend. They then made their way east amid the marauding red masses, finally landing ship at Zum Schneider beer garden on Avenue C, where the beleaguered bartenders took heart and poured them free drinks — unlike all the obnoxious clone Santas that Zum andmany other bars were by then shooing away.

The names of these adorable newlyweds from Queens were Gary Hart, 31, a daycare teacher, and Melissa Nerone, also 31, an accountant for nonprofit construction firms. They said they had been together for years, but waited five years until gay marriage got legalized in New York State to tie the knot.

“Because it didn’t seem fair for us to be able to get married otherwise,” Hart said.

They’d also been motivated to wed by year’s end to lock in certain tax benefits, so SantaCon seemed as good an occasion as any. (They are planning a “proper” ceremony in Dumbo next summer.)

We were a tad disappointed to hear that they did not plan to honeymoon at the North Pole. (Barcelona or Berlin seemed more likely.)

“SantaCon, I’m just not feeling it this year,” Nerone sighed, shaking her Nutcracker head. “It’s too many frat boys.” Amen. C’mon New York. We can do better than this! BAN SANTACON.

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8 Responses to Ban SantaCon! Inebriated St. Nicks out of control

  1. I am confused by your article. You insist that the city needs to ban it but the only reason you can come up with is to make it easier for you to get a taxi when your running late?

    Santa Claus isn't just a menace to all that is good and holy: he also brings presents! On Saturday, sixty venues who participated in NYC Santacon donated a portion of the day's proceeds to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation: as of right now, they've reported $20,000, with a projected total of $45,000.

    Although I too love unsilent night, there is no charity element to it.

    At Santacon all participants were asked to bring two cans of food to support local food banks. Santas donated 6,850 lbs of canned food at the event's starting point, which City Harvest is distributing. Twenty-two venues also collected canned food from Santas, the total weight of which will be available soon.

    • Hey, forgive me if my story was not evocative enough to convey the true plight I felt as a mom. No, it's not about me not being able to get a cab. I very rarely take cabs; I don't have the budget. I would have happily taken the bus if we had more time or ridden my bike with kidseat to Washington Square, but we were 2 mamas with 3 young kids in tow!

      Imagine trying to hail a cab in the dark with 2 four-year-olds and a six-year-old, running with them in hand into the street to get the cab, only to have some drunk santa with no kids to hold run up and take it! Imagine then having to get back to the sidewalk and then have to dash out and try again, each time risking that some car or speeding cab might sideswipe us 'cause its dark.

      Imagine these young kids who still believe in Santa and who last week went to sit on Santa's lap to whisper their wishes for Christmas, now being confronted with hordes of drunk santas who are anything but jolly and nice. (Well, some were nice, as I duly noted, but too many were flat out boorish).

      How clueless do you have to be to STEAL a cab from a mother with 3 children in her hands?? I did plenty of drinking in my day, but no matter how wasted I was, I can't imagine doing that.

      Further, when we got to Washington Square and then had to backtrack east to find the UnSilent Night procession, it meant very literally having to scream at drunk Santas milling outside local bars BY THE DOZENS to get out of the way. There was no consideration for other New Yorkers who might want to use the sidewalk.

      I HAD TO WALK MY 4-YEAR-OLD IN THE STREET. I lost Satoko and her little boys and John in a CLUSTERFUCK of Santas outside McSorleys because they did not give up and walk in the street and were still trying to wade their way through the assholes.

      ALL ALONG the way, my son kept repeating, "These are the bad Santas, right?" as if to confirm that there really was still some GOOD Santa that would visit him on Christmas eve.

      It's OK for you to drag Santa through the mud, and yes the Santa myth and how it's now used as a capitalist tool is absurd, but have some heart: My son is 4!!!

      You do not have the right to explode his innocence for a good frolic on the town.

      Furthermore, why the heck did organizers tell people to go to Williamsburg? I'm assuming to spread the burden of too many Santas from one nabe to another. But did they not perceive that this might prompt drunk Santas to take ALL the cabs?

      What if some elderly person or my son for that matter needed to go to the hospital? Why do you have a right to monopolize the cabs for your fun?

      As to your defense that SantaCon donates food for the needy, that sounds like a bribe to me, to make up for the burden your fun is now placing on the city. Since Sandy, area schools have been collecting food and supplies for those displaced or impacted by the storm. We don't need your charity, there are plenty of other more worthy ways to volunteer (We will be serving food to the homeless and whoever wants to come on Xmas day in my community garden, La Plaza Cultural, at 9th and C. We DO this kind of volunteerism all the time. We don't just buy shit.)

      As for your claim that there is no "charity element" to the UnSilent Night event, perhaps you should ask Phil Kline about that. In the 20 years he's been making tapes and providing boomboxes, he's never gotten paid by participants. It is his gift to the city, and it is a beautiful work of art, unlike the boorish ugliness I saw on display with SantaCon.

      Art is a GIFT, you ding-a-ling! If your event wasn't hogging the streets that night, more people could have enjoyed what Kline and crew came to share. Including homeless people, who need art as much as anybody!

      I like absurdity and rogue fun as much as anyone. I did plenty of Reclaim the Streets actions in my day and had a blast doing "Bridal Rampage" back in the 1990s. But we ALWAYS TOOK PUBLIC TRANSIT or walked. And we we did not overwhelm the streets and system without a serious political cause in mind.

      I don't know how you stop SantaCon at this stage. It's a worldwide meme at this point. But organizers need to seriously rethink or stop promoting it with nifty websites and such. You're like a species overrun, having exceeded the ecological niche in which SantaCon can function as absurdist street theater. As in the natural world, the next stage is either die off or an increase in predators (i.e. cops).

      Is this really want you want to be promoting?

  2. I'm sorry, "Santa", but that's total BS. The problem with the charity aspect of SantaCon is that it's a giant "get out of jail free card" for the whole mob mentality. Like, "it's okay if I vomit on your stoop because I left a can of waxed string beans at the food bank," or, "I'm going to pee in this stairwell because I gave a Barbie doll to Toys For Tots."

    The fact that you criticize UnSilent Night for having "no charity element'" illustrates my very point.

    Since the Santas have proved once again that they can't police themselves, I can already guess that next year our taxes are going to be put toward greater NYPD presence on the drunk streets of Manhattan rather than in the communities where they're needed. Will the Santas will pay for those additional street patrols?

  3. ha talk about bourgeois, as idiotic as that event is,and most of the people involved, what do you want a mall, starbucks and police everywhere?
    maybe you do, must have a home, property and a job and a fervent belief in the system

  4. Any parent that propagates a belief in santa is twisted in the first place.
    fake being, lying to your children form the beginning, distressing.

  5. So who's the bourgeois elitist here?

  6. Thank you Sarah for your insightful, humorous and accurate portrayal of the horror of SantaCon in the East Village. It's out of control…no doubt about that!

  7. Sarah, great piece. so glad someone wrote about this obnoxious event
    I was out last Saturday going to BETTY's holiday show at Joe's Pub.
    I walked from the far West Village to Lafayette St in the East Village.
    I ran into stupid, drunken Santas all over the place, to the left of me
    and to the right of me. It was not a pleasant walk, and when left the
    club, it was impossible to get a cab. The only people who benefit
    from this event are bar owners. It is not a cool cultural event like
    the Halloween Parade; it is just an excuse to get drunk, act out.
    AT least BETTY's show was great and Kate Clinton was hilarious
    when she came onstage and adlibbed about Christmas trees. She was
    killing time while we waited for Gloria Steinem ( who could not get a cab)
    to arrive and read her top 10 list. . She did finally get downtown.

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