When Michelle Nochisaki organized SantaCon Saratoga last year, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision that left her with two weeks to throw something together.
“I definitely thought it was going to be like me and 10 of my friends,” she said Saturday.
When all was said and done, though, about 300 people showed up last year for the Santa Claus convention. One year later, it appeared the event was on track for a decent second act despite the endless cloud cover and drizzle Saturday.
The kinds of people who show up for SantaCon, a pub crawl that requires participants to dress as Santa or some other Christmas character, are the kinds of people who go out on the town in full costume each Halloween. They love drinking, and they love dressing up. At SantaCon Saratoga, they get to do both but are asked to show up with at least two nonperishable food items to donate to a local food bank. Last year, a truck full of food went to the Franklin Community Center, a Saratoga nonprofit that provides basic necessities and services to the less fortunate.
“It’s a good cause, it’s a fun time and, at least today, it’s 50-degree weather,” said Richard Richbart, of Saratoga, as he settled into a table at Putnam Den, the first of five stops along the crawl.
He came dressed as Santa from a warm-weather climate — he had full cover from a red velvet coat and hat, but bared white legs beneath red velvet shorts.
Others came dressed as traditional, cold-weather Santas, complete with long white beards and big black boots. Women arrived in elf getups and Mrs. Claus outfits. For some, reindeer antlers were all the costume they needed.
The event this year featured drink specials and raffles, but the chance to spread holiday cheer was the best reward, at least for Nochisaki.
“I try to encourage nice Santas,” she said. “I feel like SantaCon didn’t have a bad rap until this year, with some of the events elsewhere. So I’m all about Santa being responsible and holly jolly and merry all day long. No one likes a sloppy Santa.”
Naughty Santas were out and about in full force at this year’s New York City SantaCon. A handful of revelers dressed as Ol’ Saint Nick engaged in a drunken street brawl after the event, giving more cause to SantaCon opponents who say the annual event is less about holiday cheer and more about boozing, vomiting and fighting.
Such is not the case, at least not yet, in Saratoga, where the event is contained to just a handful of bars.
“If you think about the holidays, everybody ends up going out and enjoying spirits with their friends, and whether it’s ugly sweater parties or this or that, people just like to be out with friends,” said Nochisaki. “I mean, Halloween is everyone’s favorite holiday because you get to dress up, so this just adds a little something extra to the holiday.
“The idea is that everyone’s going to be out celebrating anyway, so why not do it as a group of Santas for a good cause?”