Coming to Town
The elevator doors slide open slowly. Across from me is another set of elevators. Upon the metal doors, I can see my reflection staring back. I look both old and young, like a child wearing his father’s jacket. I also look like I’m about to carry out a holiday bank heist. I see myself, what I have become, and suddenly all my nervous excitement disappears. It’s all very real.
This was a mistake.
I’ve come too far and prepared too much to back out now. Earlier that week, I had walked a great distance to find what I was now wearing. I slip out through the glass lobby doors into the cold night. My suit, despite being of questionable quality, is remarkably warm. There are now a second set of pockets on top my actual pockets. This confounds me.
I swiftly walk down the street at night. I hope desperately that I don’t encounter another person on the road. Sure enough, as if tuned into the broadcast of my greatest fear, I see a man walking towards me on the sidewalk. As we pass, he pauses and shakes his head in astonishment, and then, gradually, disgust. I don’t dare turn my head. I keep going.
At a stoplight, someone shouts from their car, “Your suit is terrible.”
This was a terrible mistake.
I’m feeling very vulnerable now. I didn’t foresee this logistical nightmare.
I keep going. The meeting place is only a few blocks away. I enter an alley. There, I find the bar. I walk up the steps and gingerly let myself in. There’s a man at the front.
“Can I see your ID?” he asks.
I reach into my pocket, the wrong one. I then slip my hand beneath my pants to my actual pocket. I hand him my ID.
“Can you uh… take the beard off?” he asks.
He looks at my ID and then back at me. He can see the monster I have become.
I’m allowed inside. I see three other people, all of whom are blessedly just like me, sporting full Santa suits. I breathe a sigh of relief. I have found my people.
I am safe.
Weeks before, word was passed around the office about an event called SantaCon. SantaCon was a pub crawl with an obligatory Santa theme. It had originated in San Fransisco in 1994, but by now had become an international affair. It has even managed a sturdy foothold in Salt Lake City. Always quite uncomfortable around bars, and people, and especially people and in bars, this peaked my interest. It struck me as a rare opportunity to see some of my co-workers outside of the office, in Santa suits nonetheless.
Walking around SLC alone in a Santa Suit was one of my most vulnerable moments, but walking with a group of other Santas, or entering a bar filled wall to wall with Santas, I’ve never felt such belonging and acceptance.
I didn’t know this at the time, but there are stated guidelines to SantaCon, now available online.
Rule #5: Address your fellow santa as “Santa.”
Rule #11: Santa does not make children cry.
Rule #22: Santa doesn’t talk to the press.
Rule #2: A Santa hat alone is not enough.
Like all stations in life, there are varying levels of commitment to SantaCon. Worried about being shunned by my more experienced peers, I splurged a little and picked up something called the “Classic Santa Suit”. A red starburst on the front of the box proudly declared “Beard Included!”. The beard is hilariously paltry and artificial, and therefore perfect. The kit contained a jacket, a hat, a beard, pants, a flimsy belt, and foot covers that are meant to simulate boots.
My ensemble was merely the barest entry level requirement. Sure, there were plenty who showed up with such disappointing compromises as “Just a Santa hat” or “Festive Christmas sweater”, but all the true SantaConers stared at them with the scorn they deserved.
A notch above me were those who not only have a Santa costume but a quality Santa costume. These are the result of years of searching and refinement. These suits have beautifully embroidered snowflakes, bells, fur-rimmed shoulder flaps, and other accoutrements of a veteran SantaConnoisseur.
There are those, who I would not hesitate to label as true holiday heroes, who go above and beyond the expectations of SantaCon. If you want to be a more advanced participant, you might attempt a reindeer, the Grinch, one of the three Wisemen, or mother Mary. Ten points if you can assemble enough friends into a full nativity scene. Coming as an Elf is still somewhat controversial.
Rule #6: “Watch out for elves.”
Someone in our group went as Jesus, not baby Jesus mind you, but full-on crown-of-thrones Jesus. He became our group’s mascot. The sight of Jesus being escorted by a phalanx of Santas brought to mind the President’s Secret Service.
There are then the truly remarkable costumes. There were the Santa’s with glitter beards, the Santa T-Rex, the Santa Robot, and even the upside down Santa sticking out of a chimney. These few truly embody the joy and sacrifice of SantaCon.
Rule #4: Don’t get drunk.
Rule #9: “Don’t get drunk in public. Being drunk or disorderly in public will tarnish Santa’s reputation.”
I became uncharacteristically merry that night. I can’t for the life of me piece together the exact path that our group took through the city. There were many odd conversations. When I told a girl about working for Disney, she began to tell me about a story she had been secretly working on for a few years. She described it and I nodded emphatically. Finally, I said, “That sounds great. You should totally make that happen.”
“You really think so?”
I have no recollection of her story.
At some point in the night, one of my gloves had disappeared. Finally, I found it around the hand of Jesus’ girlfriend. I got her attention, pointed at my naked hand, and then pointed at her gloved hand. She relinquished the glove.
I feel like drinking in Salt Lake City has a different sort of significance. With the strong Mormon influence that shuns the consumption of alcohol, I think that recreational drinking here is almost a public act of rebellion, a stake in the ground, an assertion of opposition.
Boy, did I assert some opposition.
Like all great things that started in the ‘90s and were then adopted by the greater populace, SantaCon of today has been kind of been ruined, or at least heavily distorted. The original SantaCon had a message and a spirit. There was a greater emphasis on joyful shenanigans and not drunken debauchery. Throughout the whole night, part of me was hoping that we would all gather together at one point and start mangling some Christmas songs.
Finally, sometime around 1 AM, I left my Santas and the crawl and headed home alone. Life continued on. Back at work, not a single word was mentioned about that night. There was really no need. All you have to do is look a former Santa in the eye and witness that small magical twinkle of light, and then you know.
Santarchy History: The Early Years
SantaCon Looks a Lot Like Christmas. Christmas 1820, That Is.