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 www.unsilentnight.com .)
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.