(NEXSTAR) – Depending on your tolerances for alcohol and costumed buffoonery, SantaCon is either a beloved holiday tradition or the most reviled event of the year.
In any case, it’s probably a good idea to know when these fun-loving Santa Clauses are coming to your town.
SantaCon isn’t so much a “convention,” as the name suggests, but rather a huge gathering of folks dressed as Santa Claus, often for the purposes of going on a festive pub crawl. The idea has been growing in popularity for decades, with hundreds of cities in the U.S. (and many abroad) having played host to their own SantaCons in recent years.
This year, approximately 90 SantaCon events are scheduled to take place throughout the country in the coming weeks — and those are just the ones with details on the SantaCon.info database. There are even more Santa-themed pub crawls planned for additional cities and towns, though they may not operate under a “SantaCon” name.
According to SantaCon.info, SantaCon will be coming to Pennsylvania on the following dates:
- Bethlehem, Dec. 10
- Harrisburg, Dec. 10
- Pittsburgh, Dec. 10
- State College, Dec. 10
- Philadelphia, Dec. 17
These events’ origins can be traced back to 1974, when a theater group in Copenhagen decided to stage an anti-consumerism demonstration by dressing in Santa outfits and handing out items they swiped from a department store’s shelves, The New York Times reported. A few years later, the founder of an underground club in San Francisco suggested a similar event, but the group didn’t act on it until 1994, when one of the members was inspired to organize a silly Santa-themed celebration after seeing a postcard featuring several Santa Clauses playing pool in a gay bar, according KQED, a San Francisco PBS member station.
The first SantaCon — known at the time as “Santarchy” or “Cheap Suit Santas” — was more law-abiding than the Copenhagen event, with a few dozen participants crashing Christmas parties, partaking in snowball fights and even visiting a strip club while dressed in full Santa garb.
The group held another Santarchy in 1995, though the celebration took on a rowdier atmosphere thanks to the increased number of participants and the prevalence of alcohol, KQED reported.
“It was not ever intended as a pub crawl, ever,” Rob Schmitt, one of the brains behind San Francisco’s 1994 Santarchy event, once remarked in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar.
In the years that followed, organizers in nearby regions began hosting their own gatherings. The then-budding internet soon helped SantaCon became a nationwide phenomenon.
Of course, not everyone is enthusiastic about SantaCon. Schmitt himself said in 2017 that he’s not a fan of “the way it is now.” Santarchy co-founder John Law also told The Village Voice a few years before that he didn’t “want to be blamed” for the idea, largely because SantaCon had come to be associated with drunken revelry. Plenty of bars and restaurants have declined to participate during SantaCon too, instead directing participants elsewhere.
Fans, however, claim a lot of good comes from SantaCon. Organizers across the country have used their events to publicize local toy drives or raise money for charity. And plenty of bar owners willingly offer their spaces as Santa-friendly stops along the pub crawl, including the hundreds of bars in San Francisco that view SantaCon as a revenue-generating “Black Friday” of sorts for the service industry, Nexstar’s KRON reported last year.
Thinking of suiting up this year? Visit SantaCon.info for dates and locations of the SantaCons near you.
Prefer to avoid SantaCon like the plague? Go ahead and also visit SantaCon.info for dates and locations of the SantaCons near you.