Last year, seven SantaCon Santa Clauses and elves were cited for public drunkenness in downtown San Francisco, at least fifteen were transported to local hospitals, and two women were arrested for trashing a Pakistani restaurant in Nob Hill.
Some bars hoping to avoid the pandemonium of drunkenness and lawlessness decided to ban the event altogether and posted signs to keep participants away.
But despite all that, SantaCon, which now spans 397 cities in 52 countries, returned this year to celebrate its 25th anniversary in The City.
Despite facing some resistance from small businesses and annoyed residents, thousands of Santas and elves filled the streets of San Francisco Saturday afternoon.
From Union Square to Nob Hill, the Castro and the Marina, Santas and their helpers poured into local bars, sang Christmas jingles in the streets and handed out toys to passersby. All of it while heavy rain showers flooded the city.
“Aint no Hurricane outside gonna stop people from headin out to #santacon,” a local, Terence Yee, said on Twitter during the event.
— Tyeezy (@TerenceJYee) December 7, 2019
A group of San Francisco State University students headed towards bars in the Marina said the event “is legendary. We couldn’t miss it,” while they covered up with hoodies and hats.
“It’s good to see the young energy of The City,” said another event participant, Dale Hembrot. A 23-year-old University of California Santa Barbara student, Hembrot said SantaCon gave him the perfect opportunity to reunite with his college buddies.
“This is a time to get drunk off of my friends–and yeah, a little ‘real’ drunk too. This is by far my favorite college reunion,” another UCSB alumnus nearby, Stephanie Foster, added.
Nearby, 68-year-old local Bill King said SantaCon was the most fun he and his girlfriend had had in years.
But some santas didn’t feel or look as jolly. Just minutes into the event, several SantaCon participants were seen brawling, vomiting and acting disorderly on public streets.
Fifteen minutes after the event began at noon, a San Franciscan tweeted that he “saw a girl fall over into a pile of garbage bags. This will not end well,” he added.
wow. #SantaCon just started, and just saw a girl fall over into a pile of garbage bags. this will not end well. PolkSt is already messy. ����
— Oscar ���� (@oscarjr) December 7, 2019
Another user posted pictures of drunken Santa Clauses passed out on city sidewalks, calling the event “the least wonderful time of the year.”
— Mother of non pineapple-infested pizzas (@carynrweiss) December 7, 2019
A few hours later, local Twitter user Olivia Warnecke posted a warning that a bar fight had broken out on the 1300 block of Polk Street in Van Ness.
Police reported another brawl around the same time at Civic Center station on the 1100 block of Market Street. According to police, “one of the combatants (was) reportedly wearing a Santa suit.”
Santacon stupidity already happening���� pic.twitter.com/ACJ2YuDYlf
— Olivia Warnecke (@itsolivia) December 7, 2019
Meanwhile, on city streets, some passersby were turning away from the red-and-white crowd in disgust, and expressing resentment towards the event.
“SantaCon is bullshit,” Steve Kahler, a Berkely student who works the register at a local pizza restaurant on Polk and Broadway streets, said to a friend as a handful of Santa Clauses walked by. “It’s an excuse for techies that aren’t from The City to get drunk at 10 a.m. and treat people in the service industry (poorly).”
Even SantaCon’s founder John Law has expressed regret at how the event has degenerated over the years. During a 2015 interview with Vice News, Law apologized for creating a “giant, stupid wave of marauding crimson” that brings destruction in cities around the world.
SantaCon, he said, was never meant as a silly convention of people “without any kind of agenda.” The first SantaCon held by The San Francisco Cacophony Society in 1994 was a 30-person political protest against holiday consumerism.
The event’s unofficial online manager SantaCon.info, says organizers in American cities such as San Francisco are taking steps to discourage lawless and disruptive behaviors.
The website describes the event as “one of the few chances left for adults to be silly without any kind of agenda.” However, they add, the event is only fun if Santas are jolly.
“Can I get smashed?” the website says in its list of Q&As. “Sure. But if this is what you want to do, we ask that you stay home and don’t dress like Santa. Definitely don’t show up at a SantaCon.”