NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Santas came by the thousands, reindeer formed a kick line and oversized elves cavorted with saucy Mrs. Clauses as a police helicopter circled overhead.
Welcome to SantaCon, the annual Christmastime costume-parade-meets-pub-crawl that was hoping this year would persuade New York it’s more nice than naughty.
“Look out for your reindeer. Look out for your elves,” organizers advised the crowd as Saturday’s festivities began with a mix of safety messages and psyching-up: “Can I get a ‘ho’?!”
Before long, costumed revelers were headed off to bar-hop and make merry through Brooklyn and Manhattan.
After gathering in McCarren Park in Williamsburg, the Santas converged on nearby clubs Verboten and The Hall before heading to the Lower East Side then moving on to other bars and clubs around Madison Square Park.
The organizers and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel urged attendees to have fun and raise lots of money for charity.
“This year we hope to have a very positive SantaCon,” Siegel told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera.
At several officially sanctioned bars, there were long lines of Santas on their best behavior.
“There’s going to be bad apples in every bunch, there’s people that are going to get crazy but overall I think it seems pretty calm for now,” one reveler told CBS2’s Steve Langford.
Jessica Carr and Victoria Pirolli had turned themselves into snow globes, each encasing her head and torso in bubble-umbrella-like plastic, with a foam rubber base around the hips. The two science teachers and friends from New Jersey said they were at their fifth SantaCon for the creativity, not the carousing that earned the event an out-of-control reputation in recent years.
“We have fun,” Pirolli said. “We don’t pee in bushes or anything.”
There was another long line of revelers near Union Square, but with the annual holiday market just across 14th Street, how does the clamorous crowd of Clauses affect business?
“When they’re around, more people seem to stop and then they start looking over here, maybe they buy a wreath or a tree or something,” said tree vendor Richard Wynder.
The event has earned a naughty reputation over the years for drunken fights, arrests and other bad behavior from revelers dressed as Santa. But this year, organizers took additional steps to make sure partygoers stay on the nice list.
For the first time, they publicly released the planned route days before their romp through Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan bars. Organizers, who once shied from officialdom, started planning with police over a month ago, got a permit to assemble in a park and even agreed to tweet police messages about pedestrian safety.
Tracing its origins to a prankish, anti-consumerist gathering in San Francisco in 1994, SantaCon has mushroomed into events in hundreds of cities. New York’s is generally the biggest, drawing thousands of people.
“With what’s going on in the world today, we need something lighter,” said Fincher, a retail worker from Middlesex, New Jersey.
It’s also drawn criticism, particularly after the 2012 and 2013 celebrations generated two arrests, 85 summonses for disorderly conduct and other offenses, and online videos of brawling St. Nicks. Though organizers said there were no arrests or summonses last year.
In a tweet, the NYPD reminded revelers to keep it jolly by respecting neighbors, staying out of the street and getting a designated driver.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton warned earlier in the week that police would be out in full force to ensure public safety.
“Just an early warning to anybody who wants to come into the city and raise hell dressed up as Santa Claus — we’re not going to tolerate it,” Bratton said. “You can be naughty, but you have to be nice and it has to be within the law.”
One SantaCon participant told Rivera he doesn’t plan on drinking alcohol at all.
“Just a few bad apples, and I am going to drink water all day and spread good cheer to everyone,” he said.
And some bar tenders and residents said this year’s festivities seemed pretty tame.
“They behaved,” one bar tender on Houston Street told 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria. “There was no fight or anything.”
“It hasn’t been too bad,” another resident said. “These guys have been just drinking, they’re not loud.”
But cell phone video from 29th Street and Broadway Saturday night showed one man in a Santa hat with handcuffs behind his back, CBS2 reported. Meanwhile, another man was being taken to Bellevue Hospital.
A witness said the two men had been arguing. The suspect then punched the victim in the face, causing him to fall to the ground, hit his head on the pavement and lose consciousness, CBS2 reported.
It appears the men may have known each other and the suspect remained at the scene until being taken into custody.
In an earlier incident, another Saint Nick watching a stricken friend get loaded into an ambulance was not a happy camper, Langford reported.
“Why are you recording this?” he told CBS2. “Get out of here with this.”
NJ TRANSIT, Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road all banned alcohol consumption on trains before, during and after the event.
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