Well before my husband and I made our adult home in Manhattan, I was born and raised in the boroughs of NYC. So after spending a few years in Los Angeles, I was thrilled to see that nothing changed while we were gone. Our neighborhood deli was still in business, Times Square shone bright enough to see from our apartment across town and the 6 train was still packed to the point of inducing claustrophobia in the mornings. It wasn’t until that winter in 2008 that I noticed something had changed – SantaCon In Manhattan had arrived.
If you don’t know what SantaCon is, you’re not alone. There aren’t a lot of details about the festivities, but everyone knows this: one Saturday before Christmas thousands of 20-somethings dressed as Santa, Mrs. Claus, reindeer or elves swarm the streets — and drinking establishments — of Manhattan in a bar crawl that instantly rivaled St. Patrick’s Day on the Upper East Side. The party starts early in the day and lasts for hours — or for as long as a certain Santa’s alcohol tolerance holds out.
At first spotting, my kids get really excited to see a mass of red and white outfits looming around the city. “Look, there are a whole lot of Santas!” they exclaimed last year as we drove through Hell’s Kitchen on our way to the city’s main post office. The Santas waved and cheered and my kids were beyond thrilled. “Are they here delivering toys?” my then-three-year-old asked. No, they are just going to bars to get drunk. Ok, so I didn’t say that out loud. They’ll understand for themselves in a decade or two.
An hour later as we drove through the neighborhood a second time, two taxis pulled along on either side of our car. My kids waived and yelled and one girl pulled down her Mrs. Claus scoopneck and flashed us. Oh boy, I thought. Let’s just get inside.
This year I thought we’d be pretty shielded on account of the freezing cold and the nasty snowstorm. But no, my son spotted one just two blocks from our house. “Is something wrong with Santa?” “Oh no! Santa is so sick!” my two-year-old exclaimed pointing at the man puking outside a bar on our way to an early dinner. “Is he not going to bring our presents on Christmas?” my son demanded.
“Santa isn’t that guy. Or the guy at your school. Remember I told you Santa isn’t any real person. He’s just a magical idea.” I tell them as I hurry them along.
I’m not hating on SantaCon. When I was young and single these kind of organized party events were just my style. One of my personal favorites — a total head-scratcher now that I look back on it — was Patriot’s Day in Boston. We’d start drinking as soon as we woke up and by the time the Boston Marathon found its way past our dorms we’d be lit up and cheering our hearts out for those superior athletes. A fine tradition it was.
But I’m not young and single and running with those crowds anymore. Instead I’ve got two kids living in the city who ask a lot of questions. So SantaCon gets added to my list of 100 reasons why I don’t tell my kids that Santa is real. Because when you’ve seen as many boob-flashing, vomiting, urinating and falling down drunk Santas as my four-year-old and two-year-olds have already seen in their young lives, the truth about the dude in the red and white suit starts to look a whole lot better.