On Friday afternoon, I met SantaCon organizer and eight-year event veteran Kris Kringle in a Financial District coffee shop. Kringle, who has a real name but asked that it not be revealed, reached out to us to "offer an interview before you just repeat recycled stories from years past or unsubstantiated fodder from so called 'citizen groups.'" As a stalwart critic of both "unsubstantiated fodder" and "so called citizen groups," I leapt at the chance faster than the down of a thistle.

Kringle, 40, was wearing a red and white bomber hat, which he later removed to reveal two earrings—one diamond stud in his right ear, and an ornamental spiral plug in his left. His gelled hair, which falls just about to his ears, resembles uncooked rotini. The whole effect is extremely "action flick computer nerd circa '95," though he actually grew up in SoHo before it turned into a glamorous strip mall, and currently makes money running a media company. (He declined to say which one.) Here's what we talked about:

We're meeting because you wanted to explain what SantaCon is, before we go ahead and just shit all over it. So what is it that you feel the public needs to know?

Everyone has their own way of celebrating the holidays. Some traditions are more longstanding than others, some are more meaningful than others. Most of them involve alcohol. And just because we like to do it in costume doesn’t mean ours are worse or better than yours.

We see a lot of behavior from people who—which granted, could be anybody, any time, at any weekend—but when you put everybody in a uniform like that, and then you see them puking on street corners and having sex outside of Duane Reade...

Inside, actually. And it wasn’t sex, it was a handjob.

You're right. So you can see where people would sort of group everyone together and say they behave badly.

It’s really easy to point a finger at someone when they’re behaving inappropriately. It’s even easier when they’re in a costume, and it’s even easier when it’s daytime. So it’s low-hanging fruit, and it’s not any different than any sports game or any office party, or any sort of creative celebration.

I’ve been to a few office parties in my day, but I don’t think I’ve ever given anyone a handjob in a Duane Reade.

You might not have.

That's true, and maybe I'm just missing out. But that's certainly notable behavior. Do you think it's unfair for the press to report the SantaCon shenanigans as they do?

Absolutely. I think the press chooses to report the shenanigans, as opposed to focusing on the more important messages of anti-consumerism, creativity, jolly gay apparel. Some of the core messages of the holidays, as opposed to what it’s been transformed into.

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(Scott Heins/Gothamist)

In the sense that people are buying alcohol instead of...

The point of SantaCon is not to buy alcohol. The point is to have a nonsensical get-together for public street theater, for making New York exciting and weird.

You could argue that it’s also a public nuisance.

I think any large gathering of people can be seen as a public nuisance.

Do you have any particular favorite SantaCon memories?

Yes. Absolutely. If we want to go as recent as last year, there was a crew of girls that showed up in Swiss Miss outfits. The year before that, there was a crew of people that had made gingerbread houses that they wore. The year before that there was a group of polar bears that showed up. You know, people come up with the most wild costumes, and that’s what I celebrate. It is a festival of creativity. There is no barrier to entry, and that is part of our problem, and part of the beauty of it.

What do you think draws people to SantaCon, and what sort of people would you characterize them as?

SantaCon was once an underground celebration of creativity and alternative culture. The fact that it’s grown so tremendously shows that there’s a real desire amongst people to join in something creative, join in something expressive. There’s very few opportunities for that in our society, and at its core it is incredibly inclusive, and it’s incredibly creative.

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(Scott Heins/Gothamist)

Is it gonna be the same place this year that it was last year?

SantaCon tries to change its location every year.

Where is that?

I can’t tell you. It’s like opening Christmas presents early.

Have you thought about New Jersey?

[Laughs.] You’re not the first person to suggest that.

What do you say to the bars that say no SantaCon revelers allowed?

We are totally respectful of that. We don’t want to be anywhere that we’re not accepted. You know, just as if you were, I don’t know, well I don’t want to get into persecution stories. It’s easier and more inviting to go where we’re accepted. And, you know, the whole point, or the most recent development in our history, is that we’ve become a charity, and the amount of charity that we’ve raised in the last three years is pretty substantial, and we’re pretty proud of partnering with different charitable organizations. So when we do partner with a bar, we ask them to donate to charity in return.

Do you have any confirmation that that's the case? Do you have any numbers?

We have some numbers. You know, they’re bars, and it’s hard to get some reporting from them. But we do have a lot of checks that we’ve seen that have been passed on to charities that we’ve cared about.

What charities were those?

This year, it is City Harvest. Last year it was the Boys & Girls Club. I don’t remember what it was the year before, but if you look on our website it says the list of different charities. We also try to give to local charities along our route. Like three years ago, or two years ago we gave to the Figment arts festival, which happens down at the southern tip of Manhattan, because we were there.

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(Scott Heins/Gothamist)

And how long have you been participating in SantaCon?

Probably about eight years, nine years.

How have you seen it change? I mean, it’s obviously gotten bigger, but if you’re describing it as performance art at its inception, how has that evolved?

When we were a smaller group, we could be much more mobile. Now we’re limited by our size. It’s been a big change. At its core it’s still the same event. And some people choose to pay attention to that, and some people choose to pay attention to the drunken debauchery.

Pay attention to what—the numbers, or the fact that it’s grown…?

No, when reporting about it, or as new people have shown up, some people are very aligned with our creative mission, and some people are not aligned with it. And we can’t tell them not to come. We can try to do a little bit of social conditioning and social education and teach them the rules of how to be respectful parts of any organized get-together or any city. And so we’ve released videos and we have lots of texts on our website, and we tweet out many times throughout the event about how to be more civic-minded.

What sort of advice do you give people?

One of our main bits of advice is the five fucks of Santa: Don’t fuck with kids, don’t fuck with cops, don’t fuck with New York City, don’t fuck with venues, and don’t fuck with Santa’s charity mission.

Sounds reasonable.

Pretty straightforward.

Do people respect that?

Yes. And I think that when you have that large of a group, there’s always gonna be a few outliers, there’s always gonna be a few bad actors. It happens no matter what group you’re in. And it just so happens that everyone has a cell phone with a video camera on it, so when you see a bad actor, you pick up your cell phone and you can take a picture of it or a video of it, as is usually the case. In the case of the fight that everyone always points to on video, that happened outside of the lines of our destinations, and it happened after SantaCon was already over and had left that area, had left the general area.

So to what extent do you as an organizer assume responsibility when those things happen?

I can’t be responsible for everyone’s actions. I can guide the charity mission, and as an organizer I can suggest a route, but what people choose to do is up to them. This isn’t a ticketed event. [This year, State Senator Brad Hoylman wrote an open letter calling upon organizers to announce their route in advance and do a better job coordinating with officials; SantaCon organizers responded that they have already provided the route to the NYPD.]


Right. Where do you live?

The East Village.

That’s interesting because the East Village was, I think, one of the neighborhoods that had the strongest reaction to—

It was mainly the community board. Some community board members, such as Susan Stetzer, are very amenable, and some are—well, they aren't.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen at SantaCon?

Um...that’s a good question. Someone overdrinking. Yeah. I don’t find that acceptable. I don’t think breaking laws or making a public nuisance is an acceptable way to express yourself.

Yeah I guess, but we’ve been over that I think that a lot of the time that is the most visible component of SantaCon.

Well it’s the most visible because it’s the easiest to take a picture of.

Sure.

It makes for clicks or interesting webpage fodder.

I went last year, and I would say people generally got what they wanted. I guess if it’s not your scene, the answer is just avoid it, right?

That’s a great solution. I mean, I don’t go by Madison Square Garden on game nights. I just don’t like that energy. So I know to steer clear of it. I try not to go out in the East Village on a Saturday night. I don’t like that energy. A lot of college students not sure of how to act.

But you could argue that that's sort of the same contingent that—

No but I don’t complain about it! I just don’t go out in that neighborhood during that time. I don’t frequent those venues. I don’t say that they don’t have a right to do it. I don’t like crass commercialism so I don’t go to the Rockefeller tree lighting. I don’t go to Times Square. It’s my choice what I choose to do. I don’t tell anyone they can’t do it.

Sure.

And that’s a major part of the story in my mind, is that all these people saying “How dare you? What’s wrong with you?” You know, why would you choose to celebrate this way? This is how we choose to celebrate. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I think the argument is that people feel inconvenienced when it comes to their neighborhood, where they don't really have a choice.

I don’t love bankers so I don’t go down to the Wall Street area. You know like, it’s just...I don’t know, to act like someone owns New York and they get to decide what happens is...I don’t know, it’s pretty authoritative, totalitarian, whatever you want to call it.

That is the thing about New Yorkers though, because everybody thinks that they own New York, you know?

But does anyone own New York?

No.

No. I mean, I pay my taxes too.

How long have you lived in the city?

My whole life. And that’s part of the story here, is I think New York...I mean, I was brought up in SoHo when it was exciting and artistic and unusual and now it’s an outdoor mall.

I personally think that that is not the city that I care about, and so I don’t go shopping there. But I also try to keep that artistic spirit alive through lots of different events, and SantaCon happens to be one of them.

What other events do you participate in?

I participate in a lot of costumed themed events, everything from Idiotarod to Dance Parade to...I’m trying to be careful of what I bring up here.

Don’t be!

Yeah, and most of those events are creative and underground and exciting. SantaCon just happens to be one of those things that’s grown well beyond it.

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(Getty)

So you’re saying you're not gonna let what it’s become take away from the spirit of—

The core creativity of it, yeah. And maybe it’s a chance to educate those people who are looking for something alternative on a better way to act, so that they are, not in my words, in others, “less douchey.”

Yeah I mean, I guess that is...the embodiment of douchiness is like, throwing up on a child.

In my mind, the embodiment of douchiness is saying “That’s not my problem.” And maybe I could do something to help them in their life, so that they see a better way of living. A better way of celebrating. A more joyful way.

Do you have anything else you want to add?

I want to reiterate the story that it’s really easy to poke fun at SantaCon, but it has some of the core values that we all claim to want to have. At its base is a creative, expressive form of jolly joy. It’s about gifting, it’s about giving, it’s about celebrating.

Giving in a sense of the charity aspect of it?

Yeah. As well as gifting gifts to each other. It’s encouraged on our website and throughout all of SantaCon to bring gifts to share with others as well as the people we come across on our route.

What percentage of people would you say do that?

I don’t know. Of the people I hang out with, a large, large percentage.

Do you personally enjoy hanging out with a lot of the people you find going to SantaCon?

As I said, I see it as an opportunity for social education. For them to become empowered, or educated would be the best way to put it.

So if you see someone’s giving someone a handjob in a Duane Reade, do you take that opportunity to educate them?

Well, I mean that’s a very unusual moment. I’ve never personally seen that. But if I do see someone drinking more than they should, I definitely speak to them about it and say “hey, why don’t you drink some water?” and “SantaCon isn’t just about alcohol, it’s about spreading the holiday spirit.” Also...there’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol. it’s overdrinking that’s the problem. So when I see that I do definitely speak up.

SantaCon NYC takes place this Saturday; it will kick off in McCarren Park.