Santa Claus is coming to town. But did you know that 11 days before Christmas, hundreds of Santas will march around Saratoga Springs?
For the ninth year, Saratoga’s SantaCon will take to the streets as part of a worldwide holiday ritual where people gather and parade around dressed in red-and-white Santa suits. Held on various days in December, it happens in London, Beijing and Moscow. In our state, there are SantaCons in New York City, Buffalo, Utica, Albany, Troy and on Long Island.
Every event is a little different. The Saratoga Springs version is a pub crawl with 11 participating bars that collect food for the Franklin Community Center.
“As far as I know, we’re the largest actual pub crawl in the Capital District,” says organizer Brian Miller. “Last year we were up around 1,200 people.”
Anyone who is age 21 and older is welcome to participate. There are no fees or registration; just bring and donate five nonperishable food items.
About 85 percent of the participants dress up as Santa Claus. “The women don’t wear the beards, though,” Miller says.
The other folks wear a variety of imaginative holiday costumes. “The big one is Will Ferrell the elf,” he says. “We’ll get people who dress up like reindeer, people who dress up like big presents, people dressed up like Christmas trees. A lot of people like to wear festive Christmas suits and sweaters, too.”
Miller, who follows SantaCons across the country on social media, says the Saratoga event is “very creative,” with costumes that “are outside the box.”
While the pub crawl does attract younger people, middle-agers and seniors are encouraged to join in.
“Our oldest Santa last year was in his 70s,” he says. “Obviously, more of the mature Santas won’t be hanging out for the full crawl. It’s six to eight hours. But you can join us any time. You can hop in and hop out if you want.”
At every stop, there will be drink specials and giveaways.
“This year we’re going to be doing a punch ticket. So every bar you go to, you get it punched,” he says. Then there will be a raffle, in which one ticket will be picked for a cash prize. There will also be prizes for the biggest, best-dressed group, the best-dressed Santa and the most unique outfit.
From its first year in 2011, Saratoga’s event has always been about filling the food pantry at the Franklin Community Center near downtown Saratoga Springs.
“Last year we [collected] about 2,700 pounds. That makes up about 15 percent of their total food donation for the year,” Miller says. “The Franklin Community Center doesn’t just take care of the homeless, they take of people who are hard up, people who have a job but it’s just tough to make ends meet. They come and get groceries and help out their family.”
Because it’s a charitable event, Miller likes to remind everyone to stay in the giving spirit and be nice, not naughty. The New York City SantaCon, the world’s largest, with 30,000 participants, has a nasty reputation for drunkenness, arrests and violence. Saratoga’s event is much more sedate.
“You do get a few people who aren’t quite as mature with their alcohol. You can’t control everybody but you do your best,” he says.
“It’s fun, and fun for a good cause. Come on out, bring your friends. The more the merrier.”