The Norman Transcript

December 15, 2013

SantaCon divides New York City

By Alana Semuels
The Norman Transcript

NEW YORK — It’s all well and good when Santa Claus comes to town, except when he’s fighting, puking, urinating or shouting. Then he’s just obnoxious.

That’s the sentiment of some New Yorkers, who are pushing back this year against a bar crawl called SantaCon, which brings 30,000 people dressed up as Santa to Manhattan to drink and be merry.

This year, after some residents in Hell’s Kitchen reached out to event organizers and asked them to stay away, other New Yorkers are echoing that request, piling on the event that some see as a way for people who live in the suburbs to come to the city and ruin the weekend.

“It’s become this massive booze fest, with people drinking as much as they can and basically running amok without any rules,” said Diem Boyd, 43, a resident of the Lower East Side who has been putting up signs around her neighborhood that say, “Santa Con Free Zone. Alcohol-Soaked Father Christmas Themed Flash Mob Not Welcome Here.”

“People think it represents New York City, but it’s not even New Yorkers participating in it,” said Boyd, who is part of an organization called Lower East Side Dwellers that thinks there are too many bars in the neighborhood.

So far, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road have banned alcohol from trains for the 24 hours around the event, which starts at 10 a.m. Saturday.

One precinct in the New York Police Department reportedly asked bar owners not to serve people dressed in Santa costumes. The New York Times also ran an Op-Ed headlined “Bring Drunken Santas Under Control.”

Twitter users have weighed in too, with tweets such as, “Dreading #SantaCon with its testosterone heavy bridge & tunnel drunks” and, “I’m so not on board with #santacon. . . . Tacky bridge and tunnel crowd cheapening / skankifying the Xmas spirit.”

A sociologist might notice a certain tension here, between people who live in Manhattan and hate SantaCon, and those who live in New Jersey and Long Island, called pejoratively the “bridge-and-tunnel crowd,” who come into the city for SantaCon.

The press-shy organizers behind SantaCon have put out a Santa Code to rein in revelers, which includes the commands, “Santa’s nice to kids . . . Santa spreads JOY. Not terror. Not vomit.” They say they will have elves on scene this year to help control the Santas, and remind doubters that the event raises money for charity. Participants are asked to donate $10.

“Up a chimney? Look for Santa’s Secret Service at #NYCSantaCon — the red headbands mean they’re there to help,” read a text from SantaCon organizers to participants on Friday.

Mike Rodriguez, 30, is planning on coming into the city from Long Island to participate in SantaCon with a few friends. Rodriguez, who runs Flock Entertainment, says he likes the charity aspect of the event, and goes out of his way to take pictures with kids during SantaCon. Sure, some people go overboard, he said, but overall, the event is good for New York City.

“I’ve seen Santas fighting, and that’s traumatic for little kids,” he said. “But I also see people bringing out the holiday spirit, being joyful, promoting a good image.”

Tom Trimmer owns a bar, Windfall, near Bryant Park. He’s welcoming SantaCon participants. Though his bar has been around for 14 years, this is the first time he’ll be actively seeking Santas.

“It seems like they’ll be good business,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll just behave themselves and have a good time.”

But promises to be nice aren’t enough for people such as Sara Romanoski, 28. She has lived in the Lower East Side for 10 years, in an area christened Hell Square for the proliferation of bars and liquor stores there. The last two years have been particularly miserable SantaCons, she said, with people passed out on the street around her block.

The implications of inviting drunken revelers to the neighborhood will last longer than just Saturday.

“The message that’s being spread is that these are areas to go drink,” she said. “But these are neighborhoods where people live, where kids grow up, and they have great long histories. The ramifications of advertising our neighborhood like this extends far beyond SantaCon.”

Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.