Bad San­taCon-tro­versy hit­ting the streets

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE - By Jen­nifer Peltz

NEW YORK — When red-suited rev­ellers throng the city’s streets and tav­erns un­der the ban­ner of San­taCon, some see an out­pour­ing of hol­i­day spirit, not to men­tion spir­its, but to oth­ers, it’s the blight be­fore Christ­mas. Af­ter com­plaints about boor­ish, barhop­ping St. Nicks got at­ten­tion from lo­cal of­fi­cials and po­lice, the event’s ring­leaders are try­ing to quell the San­taCon-tro­versy ahead of this year’s gath­er­ing Satur­day. They’re pledg­ing to ad­vise po­lice of their usu­ally guarded plans, have vol­un­teers help con­trol the rov­ing crowd of Kringles and send the mes­sage that San­taCon is a meant to be a “fes­tive cul­ture jam,” not a bad-Santa ben­der. “This year,” the event’s web­site vows, “we are clean­ing up Santa’s act.” It’s a com­ing-of-age mo­ment for San­taCon, which traces its ori­gin to a con­sumer-cul­turetweak­ing “Santarchy” in San Fran­cisco in 1994 and now spans events in more than 300 cities world­wide. Fu­elled by the wild­fire word-spread­ing of so­cial me­dia, the New York celebration has be­come one of the big­gest, mush­room­ing in roughly a decade from a few hun­dred bearded booz­ers to tens of thou­sands, by some es­ti­mates. As num­bers have swelled, the event’s im­age has mor­phed from whim­si­cal flash mob to flash­point, even for New York­ers used to such free­wheel­ing shindigs as the gi­ant Green­wich Vil­lage Hal­loween Pa­rade. San­taCon’s or­ga­niz­ers are as tough to pin down as the elf him­self — one re­sponded to an in­quiry from the As­so­ci­ated Press, but re­fused to be quoted by name — but the site ac­knowl­edges the event “has had grow­ing pains.” En­thu­si­asts say the day­long event starts at 10 a.m. and aims to put a cheeky, mod­ern spin on hol­i­day tra­di­tions — “don we now our gay ap­parel,” any­one? — while gen­er­at­ing money for both bars and char­i­ties. Par­tic­i­pants are in­structed to make $10 char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions and en­cour­aged to bring small gifts to be­stow on one another and passers-by. In Winnipeg, the an­nual event takes place on Dec. 20, ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal group’s Face­book page. “For me, San­taCon is about just dress­ing up and hav­ing fun, laugh­ing till it hurts and en­joy­ing be­ing part of a mas­sive celebration. It isn’t about drink­ing or get­ting wasted,” says Bran­don Fer­reira-Hanyo, 27, of East Quogue, N.Y. He’s look­ing for­ward to at­tend­ing for a third con­sec­u­tive year. “It’s got­ten so huge you have to take the good with the bad,” he says, but he feels the com­plaints about drunken row­di­ness are overblown. Bar own­ers are split. To Dan War­ren, the man­ag­ing owner of Com­mon Ground, a hang­out in Man­hat­tan’s East Vil­lage, “it’s fes­tive and fun” and a boost to day­time busi­ness. But San­taCon-go­ers are frozen out of Ho­tel Chantelle, a cock­tail lounge in Man­hat­tan’s Lower East Side, af­ter a sloshed Claus ha­rassed women brunch­ing there two years ago, man­ag­ing part­ner Tim Spuches said. To some on­look­ers, San­taCon is about as jolly as ex­plain­ing to a kinder­gartener why Santa just tossed his milk and cook­ies. “Take your body flu­ids and pub­lic in­tox­i­ca­tion else­where,” read “San­taCon free zone” signs that ap­peared this week on the bar­laden Lower East Side, where some res­i­dents al­ready weary of liv­ing with nightlife see San­taCon as a fi­nal straw. “Now we have a whole day of vom­it­ing and van­dal­ism and peo­ple act­ing with­out any deco­rum or re­spect for other peo­ple,” says Diem Boyd, a leader of LES Dwellers, the group that made the signs. “I think any­thing quaint about it is gone by now.” So do some po­lice and politi­cians. The New York Po­lice Depart­ment logged a sole, dis­or­derly-con­duct ar­rest at San­taCon last year, along with 73 open-con­tainer tick­ets and a sum­mons for pub­lic uri­na­tion. That was enough for at least one po­lice lieu­tenant, who sug­gested to mid­town Man­hat­tan bars that the event hurt the neigh­bour­hood more than it helped the es­tab­lish­ments. Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Ray­mond Kelly then made clear the depart­ment supports San­taCon, call­ing it gen­er­ally peace­ful and an ex­am­ple of “what makes New York New York.” But some city and state of­fice­hold­ers also were press­ing the or­ga­niz­ers to thwart mis­be­haviour and threat­en­ing to ask po­lice and bars to do so if San­taCon wouldn’t. Mean­while, some of the area’s com­muter rail­roads are ban­ning al­co­holic drinks on their trains dur­ing the celebration, as they do dur­ing some other events. And so, or­ga­niz­ers say, a more or­derly San­taCon is com­ing to town. They agreed to let po­lice and com­mu­nity lead­ers know their planned route, which par­tic­i­pants learn only in real time by text and tweet. Vol­un­teer Santa’s helpers will help work to keep side­walks — and par­tic­i­pants’ con­duct — pass­able, ac­cord­ing to the event web­site and to state Sen. Brad Hoyl­man, who spear­headed a re­cent phone con­fer­ence be­tween of­fi­cials and San­taCon lead­ers. Hoyl­man says he ap­pre­ci­ates the ef­fort but won­ders how much sway vol­un­teers can ex­er­cise over an event that prizes spon­tane­ity. Lead­ing up to it, San­taCon’s wran­glers are try­ing to in­stil a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity, if in an in-your-bearded-face way. “Santa spreads JOY. Not ter­ror. Not vomit. Not trash,” the site says. “Would you want those un­der YOUR tree?”

SANG TAN / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Ho ho hold on: Some San­taCon par­tic­i­pants are get­ting a lit­tle too filled with Christ­mas cheer.

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