With the seasonal backlash against SantaCon in full swing, organizers of the infamous pub crawl have retained famous civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel to represent them. While the NYC SantaCon organizers have usually refused to speak with the press, the group is now reaching out to media to announce that the event is "in a transition process." Here's their statement:
"While this event will always poke fun at society and the overly-commercialized aspects of the holiday (culture jamming), Santa and the Elves are working closely with city officials, the Parks Department and NYPD on better formats to manage the event while growing it as a much beloved annual tradition for the city."
A SantaCon organizer who agreed to speak with Gothamist on condition of anonymity explains, "With our numbers increasing it attracts a certain element that doesn't understand the ethics behind it. It's about art in public space, creativity, donning gay apparel and being festive." Citing the Halloween Parade, which started out as an unauthorized street party before becoming an official parade in 1985, SantaCon organizers say they're "investigating other parade and festival-like options for the 2015 event and beyond."
In recent years SantaCon has made headlines with reports of obnoxious behavior from inebriated participants in Santa costumes who've been seen publicly urinating, vomiting, getting handjobs, and, perhaps worst of all, disillusioning the children. When word spread that SantaCon was planning to gather in Bushwick this year, local leaders pushed back, telling the event it wasn't wanted. And even one of SantaCon's founders urged would-be Santas to "go do something else."
The organizer we spoke with admits that there are some bad apples, but also says "SantaCon brings way more smiles than it does scowls. It's easy for the press to look at a group of people all dressed the same acting out of the norm and make claims about them. There is probably .01% of Santas that act inappropriately, but when you have 30,000 people that's 30 people, and it's easy to take a picture of them."
SantaCon is promoting a #DontScroogeSantaCon hashtag this year in an attempt to curb bad behavior, and organizers also say the event raises thousands of dollars for charity through partnerships with participating bars. They claim they raised $60,000 last year, which was donated to Figment Project, the Food Bank of New York, World Hoop Day, and the Dance Parade.
Siegel, who was most recently in the news for defending the nurse who was forcibly quarantined during a New Jersey ebola scare, cited the Dance Parade as one group he represented as it transitioned into an officially-sanctioned event. "I think what SantaCon is trying to do is reduce any of the negative aspects," Siegel tells us, adding that even Santa has Constitutional rights. "People need to be able to express themselves and do it within the parameters of the First Amendment."
Asked if he had anything to say to SantaCon critics who dismiss the event as a fratastic shitshow, the SantaCon organizer told us, "To paraphrase Ray Kelly, SantaCon's the kind of thing that makes New York New York. It's a spectacular display to behold. I believe we need a little bit of culture-jamming in our world before our city turns into a big mall. There is a tremendous amount of creativity that people put into their costumes. We have children and families and dogs that come to the beginning of the event.
"We do understand that when alcohol gets involved it can lead to certain improprieties, but we do not endorse that, and we discourage that. There's always a bad element when you have this many people together, and we do our best to curb their activities."
SantaCon happens this Saturday the 13th. The route is usually announced one day prior, and it usually romps through midtown and then swarms the East Village, though that may change this year. EV Grieve reports that Community Board 3, which oversees the Lower East Side, has announced that the event will not take place there.
"We are looking to change a lot this year," the SantaCon organizer told us. "We are listening to the concerns of the NYPD, the Community Boards, the local politicians, the DOT, and the MTA. We want to work with them, as we did last year. They've expressed a lot of concerns and we're working to address them." Santa would not elaborate on specific changes that organizers will make.