New York is a city of opinions and loudmouths, and that's just the way we like it. Rarely do citizens stand united on a subject — with three obvious exceptions: terrorism, the G train, and SantaCon. When it comes to these issues, everyone generally agrees that they are the worst.
The origins of SantaCon have been obscured by years of street-puking, but the event was initially inspired by the Danish political theater group Solvognen, which stormed a Copenhagen department store in 1974, handing merchandise out to customers as "presents." The country was in the midst of an economic downturn, with unprecedented unemployment numbers creating a stark divide between wealthy and poor. Solvognen's act of civil disobedience was meant to "spark a public debate about what the government might do to help its citizens." A violent clash with police ensued, as all 75 Santas were arrested, many beaten in the street while shoppers looked on.
Last year's SantaCon turned violent as well, as two drunken bar-crawlers tackled each other in a slushy street fight, caught on video. New York magazine's Intelligencer posted the clip under the tag "Jerks."
That's the general consensus regarding SantaCon revelers, and they've yet to do anything to dispel their reputation. True, the organizers do maintain a charitable element in the event (last year they claimed to raise $60,000 for local food banks), but anyone who stepped outside their door last Saturday knows that most participants aren't doing it for the needy. "I came out to get drunk," one Santa told CBS News. "It's a fun way to celebrate the holiday," said another. "And, get drunk!"
So, they did, in 32 participating midtown bars, while all around them tens of thousands took to the streets for another cause. The Millions March joined American citizens across the country in outrage over the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, all of whom died at the hands of police officers who remain uncharged.
While SantaCon organizers advised participants to "stay indoors" so as not to disrupt the march, it seems many Santas ignored the message and took the party to the streets anyway. Photos of the two events colliding provided a gut-churning image of our own divided city, but worse than that, some SantaCon partiers seemed to view the protests as nothing more than a giant buzzkill. One was caught on video heckling the marchers while his fellow Santa gave a tipsy thumbs-up to the camera.
This shameful moment highlights the sad arc of SantaCon's legacy. What began as a group of citizen activists, 40 years later, yielded the pack of shitfaced bros mooning them.
However, the Santas argue that theirs is a First Amendment cause as well, even hiring renowned civil-rights attorney Norman Siegel to defend their right to bar-crawl. "This is America," said Siegel, in a pre-event press conference. "You can't ban people from walking on public streets and being in public spaces. That's not what America is all about."
Indeed, they are protected by the same laws as the 50,000 protesters who marched in sober solidarity on Saturday. As citizens, we have a right to make that choice between joining a cause, opposing, or ignoring it. That is what America is all about.