SantaCon, Performance Art Gone Horribly Wrong, Is On

But it hopefully won't descend on a neighborhood near you.

SantaCon New York City.
Photo: David Bledsoe via Flickr.

Bushwick residents are still breathing a sigh of relief after City Coucilmember Rafael Espinal, Jr. received confirmation from SantaCon organizers that the dreaded annual event, which started as a performance piece, will not be held there when it takes place Saturday December 13. Recent news from Community Board 3, which covers the East Village, revealed that SantaCon will not be happening there either. Many bar owners have been banding together, posting signs enforcing rules of “No Santas,” “No Costumes” and “No Sexy Santas” ahead of the planned SantaCon revelry. The Boycott SantaCon website has been urging people to keep the “vomit comet” out of Brooklyn.

Organizers obviously got the message when Espinal issued a public statement in mid-November: “I am urging all bar and restaurant owners to not participate in this holiday tradition. While the SantaCon organizers are promising an increase in revenue, I think it is safe to say that Bushwick is doing well without it. We should continue pushing for events like ‘Bushwick Open Studios’ that enrich the community, not exploit it.” A date later Espinal said: “I want to publicly thank SantaCon organizers for their quick response and their respect for community concerns.”

How it Started

How did things get so contentious? A lengthy, well-written piece in the Village Voice traces the history of SantaCon from “joyful performance art” in San Francisco in the mid-1990s to the “reviled bar crawl” mainly in New York, that it has become today. Writer Meredith Hoffman interviewed John Law, who in 1998, “strapped on a fake white beard, donned a $12 red suit, and led 200 Santas as they went caroling up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.” They eventually wandered into Central Park where a group of skaters burst into cheers when they spontaneously ascended a hill and yelled “Merry Christmas!” Recounts Law: “I almost started crying.”

Nowadays it seems the only ones who want to cry are residents of the neighborhoods SantaCon plans to descend upon.

The original performance art experiment, says Law, was meant “to make whimsical fun of the holiday,” imagined “as a surrealist satire of the commercialization of Christmas.”

Despite all the recent hate, organizers of NYC SantaCon appear to be forging ahead. Per their website, the start point of SantaCon 2014 will be announced on SantaCon eve (December 12). Some proceeds of the event will be donated to various organizations including the Figment Arts Festival.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics