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SantaCon’s Army Of Drunk Santas Could Bring Christmas To New York City’s Children

Argument — much like karaoke and online shopping — is at its best when done with friends and a drink. And so, here’s “Bar Fights With Walt,” a column devoted to solving the only questions that truly matter: the dumb arguments about life and pop culture developed and hashed out in barroom rants. We’ll use data and research to take these arguments to their logical statistical conclusion. If you’d like to submit a question or conundrum, corner the author at one of his typical haunts and pick a fight.

This weekend, tens of thousands of people dressed as Santa Claus will descend on New York City for a roving bar crawl known as SantaCon. The argument I’ve had over the past several days — be it with folks at One Star or roommates at home — has to do with what our world might look like if those Santas spent their time more productively.

What could be accomplished if the roughly 25,000 Santas that participate in SantaCon NYC acted like real Santas?

To understand why we’re asking this question, you need to know a little bit about what’s going to happen to New York on Dec. 13. The city has a couple of alcohol-focused celebrations each year — St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve, for example — but SantaCon is a different breed of bacchanal.

New York isn’t known for Helen Lovejoy types, and yet many residents consider SantaCon an annual abomination. Yahoo technology editor Jason O. Gilbert wrote the definitive takedown of 2013’s event in The New York Times: “SantaCons of years past have been distinguished by sexism, drunkenness, xenophobia, homophobia and enough incidents of public vomiting and urination to fill an infinite dunk tank,” Gilbert wrote. There are videos of a Kringle-on-Kringle fistfight from 2013. Gawker wrote about one St. Nick participating in a public sex act in the vestibule of a Duane Reade pharmacy. When people start complaining about public urination and street vomit in New York City, one feels a line has been crossed.

But what if all those drunken Santas weren’t defacing the city? What could they accomplish in lieu of drinking a quart of Jagermeister apiece and humping the New York Public Library lions?

First, let’s estimate a number of participants. In an email, SantaCon organizers referred me to their Facebook page for an estimate of their attendees — 30,400 in 2012 and 19,300 in 2013, with more than 11,000 already RSVPed for this year’s event — but plenty of St. Nicks participate without RSVPing. Let’s average the years we do have to figure roughly 25,000 attendees.

The Columbia Encyclopedia says there are about 1,100 enclosed malls in 2014 in the United States. If each SantaCon attendee worked one day at a mall, they could staff every mall in the country from Dec. 2 through Christmas Eve.

How about delivering presents? In an edition of his What If? blog exploring how long it would take someone to walk every street in New York City, Randall Munroe estimated that the city had around 15,000 USPS employees (I did some sanity checks on Munroe’s estimate, and it seems sane).

So 25,000 Santas could almost certainly visit New York City’s 8.4 million residents. And if you consider that in 2012 only 45 percent of family households had children under 18 in them, delivering presents to every kid in New York becomes an easily achievable goal.

Instead, the streets will be packed with drunk St. Nick’s drinking for charity. In an email, the organizers said, “Please remind people in your article this is a charitable, creative, costumed event. SantaCon does not promote or condone bad behavior amongst it participants.” Indeed, last year SantaCon raised $60,000 for charity, roughly $1.97 per Facebook attendee.

“I see that number and think it’s impressive,” said Gilbert. “And then I think, why can’t they do that and not throw up on my porch?”

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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