The Streets Ran Red With Santas: The Topsy-turvy World That Is Santa-Con!

Santa-Con erupted out of San Francisco in 1994 and was sponsored by the The San Francisco Cacophony Society. Santa-Con has inspired many and has been the topic of ridicule by others for the last 21 years. It is unquestionably a polarizing topic and event for those in the know. Santas running roughshod and amuck through the streets can be shocking and, at times, a disturbing juxtaposition of two fantasy worlds in conflict, one of the traditional Santa Claus colliding with a new impish street pranksters in bright red suits frolicking irreverently like Pan. For those who are uninitiated and unaware of the joke it feels like a bracing slap in the face. The early days of Santa-Con were intended to be disturbing agitprop, Balkanizing the concept of the ideal Santa Claus is and what Christmas in general was to be. You can read about the early Santa-Cons in the article Santarchy History: The Early Years.

To address the detractors of the Santa-Con experience represented in Foster Kamer’s article “We’re Killing Santa-Con“, which is a poorly thought out blog regarding Santa-Con and filled with misinformation and bitterness. For what it’s worth The San Francisco Cacophony Society hasn’t been associated with Santa-Con for nearly 8 years. The photos used in Kamer’s article are very old and don’t represent anything contemporary of the Santa-Con event in San Francisco. Kamer was speaking to a New York audience and that scene may be completely different from what takes place in San Francisco. Kamer refers to these Santas a “knuckle-dragging mouth breathers.” While my father wasn’t a knuckle dragger, he was a mouth breather. My father raised us, provide handsomely for his family and left a legacy of kindness I fear that Kamer can’t remotely understand. Kamer says, “No greater a public demonstration of white privilege exists than you and your friends taking to the streets and covering them in bile, booze, and sometimes, your seed, with nary a worry for criminal consequence, all in the name of the whitest motherfucker ever: Santa Claus. 

I beg to differ with Kamer, our St Nicolas, the person, of which our Santa Claus is modeled after was from North African roots. Santa Claus was a European Moor. Although, our contemporary version of Santa resembles a fat Odin the tradition of Christmas and Santa Claus embarks for the deeds of a Moorish Christian Saint. Oddly, you’ll see from my photos that Santa-Con is multicultural and very inclusive. So I think Kamer misses on a number of levels what Santa-Con is and who is a party to it, with a slightly insulting racist slant. Lastly, Santa-Con is similar to a meme. It has permeated our society with its whimsy and clever takes on the Christmas theme. It will travel unhampered culturally, like William S. Burroughs “Language is Virus” meme, without an arbiter’s observation or permission.

Photo Gallery After The Break

Today’s version of Santa-Con presents a homogenized version of the original. Today’s interpretation of Santa-Con is like a fractal representation that blossomed from the original, diverging into numerous versions. The San Francisco Santa-Con had 16,000 participants this year. This is way up from the 2009 event I attended at Fisherman’s Wharf with only 2,500 Santas in attendance. In any case, there’s always Santas, Reindeer, Christmas Trees, Elves, Darth Vader Santas, Krampus and Santa Bananas behaving badly at Santa-Con. The agenda of the Santa of yore was to disturb/confuse and the Santa of today is one of entertainment, mischievous distractions with a Pub friendly attitude: there’s no longer a bite to SantaCon, it has been replaced with a wet messy kiss.


Billy Bennight

About Billy Bennight

Billy Bennight is a writer, photographer and wardrobe stylist with expertise and years of experience in these disciplines. His musical youth started as a Punk Rocker and has expanded into exploring many genres of music, with an keen interest in art, fashion, photography and writing. He shoots celebrity events and red carpets for The Photo Access and ZUMA Press. He is a member of the Los Angeles Art Association. His images have been published in The Los Angeles Times, People Magazine, Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair. He's very engaged in life. You can follow him on his Facebook page at: and on Instagram and Twitter @billybennight
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