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Rebels without a Claus

Rico Gagliano Dec 25, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: No doubt Santa is now settling in for his long-winter’s nap. Now that the deliveries have been made, and parents are the ones responsible for figuring out return policies. Today also marks the end of the season for Santa wanna-bes. Those folks who just can’t get enough of the red coat and stockings, big black belt buckle and floppy cap. You might be surprised to learn how many of them there are. And how many takes they have on Old St. Nick.Marketplace’s Rico Gagliano found a group of them gathered in — of all places — Hollywood.

RICO GAGLIANO: Saturday morning, December 17th, at the House of Pies diner in Los Angeles, a young woman dressed as Santa Claus answers her cell phone.

“SANTA HO”: Roger, Santa. I’m already at Pie Zero and I parked in the coin lot. Maybe at the end of the day, you can give me a ride back to my car.

Meanwhile, more people arrive, all wearing Santa suits. Soon there are hundreds of them.

LINDA: I’m Linda, and, yeah, I’m meeting somebody here for breakfast. I was not expecting to see Santas, but, oh, my God, I’m looking at the Santa in the black fishnet. He’s looking pretty funny.

“PANTY CLAUS”: Ho, ho. Hi. I’m Panty Claus, yeah, ’cause I’m wearing panties.

“SECRET SANTA”: Hi. I’m Secret Santa.

“LOBSTER CLAUS”: I’m Lobster Claus.

And you are dressed as a lobster.

“LOBSTER CLAUS”: Well, yes, I’m the Santa for lobsters. I can hold a sack in each one of my eight arms actually.

They have gathered for Santacon, a ritual originated by a network of pranksters called the Cacaphony Society. In 1994, a few Cacaphonists celebrated the season by marauding drunkedly though the shopping districts of San Francisco wearing rented Kringle gear. The idea spread to cities from New York to Tokyo. Hundreds gather annually for Santa rampages, Santa cruises and Santa fadas. Santa Ho, the woman on the cell phone, has participated for seven years.

“SANTA HO”: Well, the rules of Santacon are as follows. The first one is you have to wear a Santa suit. The next one is that we stick together because there is safety in numbers and impact as a mob. The other rule is that we are nice and kind to children and rude and obnoxious with adults.

All of which might lead one to ask: Why?

“SANTA HO”: This is not an overarching philosophy that I’m going to say that everyone shares, but, to me, the meaning of Santacon is protest of the excesses of Christmas and consumerism. So what better way to express the idea of excess than with an excess number of Santas?

“ELVIS PRESLEY”: I’ve got to save the king!

An Elvis Presley impersonator has just pulled into the House of Pies parking lot in a Jaguar. The Santas are exceedingly pleased to see him.

“ELVIS PRESLEY”: Oh, this is Elvis Presley and I just saw the craziest thing. About a thousand Santas a€” I thought there was only one. He’s got a big job to do, so there’s plenty of them, and I know they’re going to take over Los Angeles and have a great time and I’m backing them all the way, baby. Rock ‘n’ roll from Hollywood. Thank you very much.

Crowd: Buy more stuff! Buy more stuff! Buy more stuff!

After a short subway trip, the Santas pour down Hollywood Boulevard in a screaming red tide bristling with carefully concealed intoxicants.

Unidentified Man #1: And we say ho!

Crowd: Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!

For shoppers and store owners in the Santas’ path, there’s a certain uniformity of reaction: first amusement, then confusion and then fear as the realization sets in that 200 people dressed identically and united in purpose can do just about whatever they please, like collapsing in a big red pile in the doorway of this guy’s suit shop.

Unidentified Man #2: You-all messing with my business. They’ve got to go. They’ve got to go down, farther down. They’re blocking off my way. I love Santa Claus, but you-all got to go farther down.

Crowd: Wake up! Wake up!

Are you closing up for Santa? You can’t accommodate this many Santas?

Unidentified Man #3: No. No.

Hollywood Toy & Costume closing early to keep the Santas out. It’s a sad day for America.

Unidentified Man #4: Santa, you’ve been banned from the mall. Santa is no longer welcome in the mall.

That’s the sound of 200 Santas getting on the subway. It’s 4 p.m. and after a refreshing lunch at Hooters, they’re on their way to Universal City Walk. Some will be ejected by security for refusing to remove their beards. Others will drunkenly attempt to ride a mechanical bull.

And at 8 p.m. they’ll rendezvous at the final stop of the day, a traditional yuletide strip club.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

In Los Angeles, I’m Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.

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