This story was updated on December 18th to update the meeting place of this year's Santacon. Follow the group on Twitter for the time and place of the meeting.
'Twas the 20th of December and all through downtown, not a creature was stirring... except for a couple of dozen inebriated Santas.
If you're downtown Saturday evening, you might rub your eyes and check your sight twice, as there will be about 50 Santas milling about.
It's the 11th annual Colorado Springs Santacon, where performance art meets flash mob.
Santacon started in San Francisco in 1994, and has since grown to be a nationwide sensation, with groups of people dressing as Santa and descending on cities — and bars — to have fun.
One of the coordinators of our Santacon agreed to talk with me on the condition we only refer to him as "Santa" — and that I remember there is no "organizer." Given that No. 7 on the Santarchy FAQ is "We do not do interviews with the media," this qualifies as an exclusive.
As with any grassroots movement that catches on, Santacon is experiencing some growing pains. (Oh, sorry, No. 5 on the FAQ: "Santarchy is not a movement, that's what you do in the bathroom. In addition to that, the annual Santacon events are not a protest against Christmas or commercialization. It's just a bunch of Santas getting together to have a good time.")
Despite their peaceable intentions, Santacons across the country — most notably in New York City — are finding the welcome mats withdrawn. The Village Voice estimates that 30,000 Santas participated there last year and reports bar owners were banding together to ban the Santas this year.
Our local Santa understands the concerns of bar owners when a giant pack of Santas descends: It's hard to keep track of tabs when everyone is dressed in red-and-white; underage drinkers are much harder to track; they've been accused of being poor tippers; and then there's just the general rowdiness of attendees who embrace holiday anarchy.
"But you can't shut down Santacon," says our Santa, who has a red tattoo that reads "ho" on his leg. He and two other Santaconspirators got the tattoos last year to mark the 10th anniversary of this local fest.
Things weren't so ho-monious here three years ago. Greg Howard, who with his wife, Ari, owns McCabe's Tavern, was ready to shut the door to future Santas. Howard says participants were rude to staff and owners ("It's always a shit show," Howard says) and some Santas brought in bottles of wine in their Santa bags (a no-no that could result in a liquor violation and the loss of the owners' livelihood).
Instead of ensuring that he only received coal in his stocking for all future Christmases by simply banning Santas, Howard spoke to fellow bar owners, and reached out to some of the Santas to explain his case. He was happy to report that last year, the crowd was much better behaved. (The folks at the Golden Bee didn't agree and asked them to leave, but really, that's no surprise.)
In previous years, the Santas have visited Focus on the Family to take a photo at the sign, they've dropped in on strip clubs, they stopped in to have their photo taken with the Santa at Chapel Hills Mall (and were run out because only one Santa is allowed in the mall). But the heart of the operation is a bar crawl.
Our Santa said that in previous years, they hired a bus to haul the revelers around. Howard thinks this leads to rowdier behavior, as they have coolers on board and the participants are not just drinking hot cocoa between stops.
Sure, it's anarchistic in spirit, but it still shows some respect. The Seattle Santacon website provides "The Four Fucks." First, Santa does not F with kids. Santas are encouraged to have goodies to hand out to kids. Participants in the Colorado Springs' con participate in toy builds leading up to the event. I've seen some of the toys that come from their efforts, and they're odd and sometimes disturbing — think the Island of Misfit Toys turned up to 11. They hand out their creations as they cruise the town. Still, our Santa says, "No rude toys for kids!"
No RSVP is needed if you want to get your Santa on. Just dress up ("A Santa cap won't cut it," says our Santa) and come ready to make your own mischief.