On Thanksgiving Day, my family honored our usual tradition of going around the table to share what we're thankful for through mouthfuls of delicious turkey and mashed potatoes. When it came to my turn, I had a flash of dark-meat-induced insight and heart and said that 2012 had taught me the importance of good people in our lives. That's what the holidays do to you. Wine also helps. A few weeks later, I learned another valuable lesson that I'll carry with me for the rest of my life: If you dress up as a giant Christmas gift, you will be sexually harassed.
This harsh lesson was taught at SantaCon, an annual worldwide event for which hundreds of people—thousands in some cities—dress up in Christmas-themed costumes and go out on a pub crawl. For years I've seen photos depicting seas of piss-stained Santas holding hands with snowmen, using their carrots as phalluses, while naughty Rudolphs with very shiny nipples instead of noses lead them through the fog of drunkenness to the next bar. It is, as many have put it, complete Santarchy.
When I saw that San Diego would host its own SantaCon in North Park, I figured it was time for me to experience this hell storm of yuletide insanity for myself. What can I say? Anytime an opportunity to put on a stupid costume presents itself, I feel like I should take advantage. Plus, they were accepting food donations for Mama's Kitchen, which provides meals for people with HIV or AIDS.
Just like with Fight Club and debutante balls, there are many rules to follow at SantaCon. A certain decorum must be followed, and, for this event, behavioral expectations are broken down as "The Four Fucks": 1. Don't fuck with kids. Children love Santa, and their impeccable image of the jolly fat man is not to be tainted. 2. Don't fuck with cops. 3. Don't fuck with security. 4. Don't fuck with Santa. I have no idea what that last one's supposed to mean, but the threat lingered like the scent of freshly baked cookies that may or may not be laced with ex-lax.
You're also expected to address people as their characters. If you're talking to a snowman, you're to call him or her "Snowman." Don't even think about calling Santa "Todd" or "Shelly." Santa is "Santa." Call that rose by any other name and a group of hardened, wise-guy elves just might whack you with a stocking full of roasted chestnuts.
I managed to convince Michelle, my good friend and constant co-captain in weird exploration, to join me. I spent about an hour putting together my huge Christmas-present costume, which consisted of two large packing boxes, half a roll of wrapping paper, tons of masking tape and glittery green ribbon. Michelle showed up to my apartment dressed as a lump of coal. It looked like both the naughty and nice boys and girls on Santa's list would be covered.
Though SantaCon went from noon to 8 p.m., I wasn't sure my liver or my dignity could handle the shenanigans for that many hours. And lumps of coal always know when the bad stuff is going to happen.
We walked to U-31 Cocktail Lounge. We weren't even 10 feet from the door when a slurring, sweaty Mrs. Claus yelled out, "Hey, Present, can I un-wrap you?" Five minutes later, an even more drunken Santa asked the same thing, but used his hands a whole lot more. And then it happened again.
"Not to sound all rape-trial, but you're kind of asking for it," Michelle said.
"Yeah," I said, "I'm not sure how my case would hold up in a court of law. Shit."
Entering the bar was like going into a hot, sweaty version of what I imagine a Hedonism resort in the North Pole would be like. A group of SantaConners on the stage were screaming out carols, elves were grinding on each other, and I continued to receive enthusiastic unwrapping offers. You'd think watching someone in an unwieldy get-up—me—unsuccessfully attempt to lift a drink to her mouth would be off-putting to these people, but no. It made me feel for anyone in a genuinely revealing costume.
I also got a ton of high-fives and requests to be in photos, and I obliged with a smile. It's Christmas after all, and most people were very sweet and gracious. But when I made a horrified face in a photo after an elf decided to pose with his hands ripping at my chest, only thinly protected by my sweater and a bit of cardboard, and he asked me to do it again, but this time look "less rapey," Michelle and I decided we were in over our heads. In her words: "What a shit show."
We walked to the next location, Bar Pink, stopping to watch a tiny sexy Santa get picked up off the ground and carried away. Once there, things got more insane. Michelle and I double-fisted whiskey diets in an attempt to get on everyone else's level, but we were way too far behind. A Santa in flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt was asleep at the bar and the makeout sessions were getting more intense.
Sometimes I make stupid jokes that are taken too literally, and things blow up in my face. I never learn. When I jokingly said "threesome?" to a couple going at it right next to us, I was immediately pounced on. The dreadlocked lady Santa grabbed on to my neck and, like a drunken Dementor going in for the kill, she proceeded to give me a hickey. I definitely asked for that one. We made our exit after I managed to escape her clutch with a silent "Expecto Patronum." I walked out wiping off saliva. But there's no wiping the shame from my memory.
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