Getting into holiday spirits, in moderation
A warning to all Santas: Don’t get plastered.
And yet, Santa will get plastered. Thousands of Santas. That’s what happens at SantaCon, the annual ad hoc gathering in downtown San Francisco of wobbly men and women in Santa and Mrs. Claus suits. It’s unofficial, it’s an institution, it’s either charming or obnoxious. Ready or not, it’s on for Saturday.
In San Francisco, SantaCon is acknowledged if not sanctioned. At Union Square, the unofficial North Pole, there will be no sound system this year. Organizers did not get a permit, because Union Square has already issued permits for the skating rink and the giant tree.
One SantaCon non-organizer, who identified himself as Santa Tom, said the lack of a permit will not and must not stop SantaCon.
“Union Square can’t keep us out!” he said, in a message to Santas everywhere. “Show up anyway! SantaCon is not canceled!’’
Although SantaCon offers little more than red velvet anarchy, there seem to be a few accepted rules: Bring a toy to give away. Wear a full Santa suit, not just a hat. Don’t Santa and drive. And don’t assume a paper bag is going to fool a San Francisco cop.
The main rule is to stay sober. Santa doesn’t always follow that one.
Laura Roseland, a bartender at Bartlett Hall on O’Farrell Street, said SantaCon is “always crazy,” but in a nice way. She said she has never had to cut off a Santa.
“If someone is too intoxicated, it’s a bartender’s job to tell them they can’t drink any more,” Roseland said, but so far the Santas of her professional acquaintance have behaved themselves.
Besides, only high-end Santas can afford to belly up at Bartlett Hall, where a Tiki-KiYay rum drink costs $14 and a sparkling-wine-hard-cider Christmas spritz runs $12.
Bartlett Hall will have extra security guards on duty, Roseland said, to make sure Santas remain good for goodness sake.
At the Union Square Sports Bar on Mason Street, bartender Jeremiah Lowe said he expects the Santas to be shoulder to shoulder.
“There are good Santas and there are bad Santas,” Lowe said. “We get both. They get started early and then they move around the town.”
Lowe said he would not hesitate to 86 any over-thelimit Santa.
“When Santa tosses his milk and cookies, it’s time for Santa to go,” Lowe said.
SantaCon seems to have started in San Francisco in the mid-1990s and moved quickly around the world, something like the red man himself in his sleigh. The good Santas, the fun Santas and the toy-giving Santas are welcome. The upchucking, urinating Santas are anathema.
SantaCon is not really an organized event, even though it makes enough money for saloonkeepers to qualify. One of the San Francisco websites promoting the event has links to an online costume store selling $37 “cheap” Santa suits on up to a $450 “majestic” costume.
San Francisco cops, who will be decked out in their standard blue costumes, say the rules for public behavior remain the same regardless of the cut of the red velour.
The pre-pub-crawl scene in S.F.’s Union Square at the 2016 SantaCon, where responsible drinking is the goal.