With SantaCon coming
to town, anyone can
be the Man in Red.
Get ready for this scene: On the afternoon of Saturday 16, a few hundred slightly tipsy, severely merry Santa Clauses will traipse around Chicago’s streets, hitting up bars and spreading holiday cheer.
It’s not a seasonal department-store firing gone wrong, it’s SantaCon—a convention of Santas that brings together anyone who’d like to dress up as the Man in Red for a day. These revelers will share their love of fur-trimmed suits, white beards and bellies full of jelly while running through downtown streets and knocking back a few pints.
This red, cheery free-for-all started out West in 1994 when members of the San Francisco Cacophony Society—a performance-artist group known to fill buses dressed as clowns—grabbed a handful of cheap Santa suits and made a scene. The initial event became a phenomenon, and SantaCon (irreverently interchangeable with the names Santarchy and Red Menace) became an annual occurrence.
SantaCon San Francisco is still organized by its originators, and through the Web, street campaigns and word of mouth, others have followed suit. Anyone can start his own SantaCon by asking the originators for a mention on the main website SantaCon.com. St. Nick–costumed carousers have since sprung up across the world, from Boulder, Colorado, and Boston to Berlin.
This year, SantaCon Chicago—organized by a participant of a New York SantaCon—hits our streets for the first time. A few hundred people are expected to don creatively themed red Santa suits—like Hanukkah chickens and Santana Claus—and join the festivities.
The lingering question that hangs over the event like last year’s shriveled mistletoe is, Why? Large-scale street actions usually have an agenda—crying out against war, saving whales, having your pet spayed or neutered—and SantaCon doesn’t seem to have one.
“Some people actually take it towards anticonsumerism,” says Santa Tom, one of the Chicago organizers, who, in the tradition of the original SantaCon, prefers to remain known by his Santa title. “We don’t want to do that. It’s just a different way of celebrating the season.”
Still, an event sometimes dubbed “Santarchy” with participants dressed in costumes like Satan Claus must certainly have an agenda, right?“This is America, and we have the right to assemble. Let’s use it,” says Santa Kat, another organizer, as if he were warming up an Uncle Sam–a–Claus costume. “Besides, the sheer value of seeing 300 people dressed up as Santa walking down the street—that’s going to be pretty awesome to me.”
The organizers of the first SantaCon Chicago hope that the holiday fete will make a splash and continue on in the future. Though similar events do exist in the Windy City—like Santa Kong on December 8, a more traditional pub crawl with admission and a rented bus; and Santa Rampage on Saturday 16, a Santa-on-cycles event sponsored by Chicago Bike Winter—none has evoked the original San Francisco treat, where several St. Nicks blanket the streets in red.
The jolly mob will travel to and from watering holes, starting at the Congress Hotel Bar (520 S Michigan Ave) and continuing through downtown along a route that may include Monday’s Restaurant (19 E Jackson Blvd), Howl at the Moon (26 W Hubbard St) and Randolph’s (151 N Michigan Ave), among others.
“We’re still trying to figure out how many we’re expecting,” Santa Kat explains about the tentative parade route. “If we’re under 100, we can hit more bars. If we’re over 300, we can split up to four or five different places, and take over a block.”
Kicking off at 2pm at Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway, SantaCon is free and welcomes everyone. But all participants must follow two rules: (1) Be dressed as some sort of Santa Claus and (2) put some effort into the costume.
“If you show up in a Santa Claus hat, we’re not going to make you walk 20 feet behind us or anything,” Santa Kat says, “but you definitely get a D for effort.”
Santas take over the streets on Saturday 16. For details, see listings or go to www.santaconchicago.com.