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Happy Holidays 2006

Alternative Santas put twist on holiday spirit

Published December 17, 2006

[Times photo: Luis Santana]
Santas wave to motorists Saturday at International Plaza mall. They are beardless because of mall rules barring face coverings.

Santa is hot. Santa is thirsty. And Santa is cranky.

"What I want to know is, what ... happened to Santa's drink?" says the scraggly, blond St. Nick with the pillowcase full of candy canes and coal.

"Now, you should know, Santa," says another Santa, gently chiding his jolly old doppelganger. "You're omnipotent."

It was only 2 p.m. Saturday, and no one had drunk anything stronger than a venti Starbucks latte - yet - but the Santa jokes had already begun.

The ho-ho-ho's always start early at Santacon, the annual walkabout-cum-drinkathon staged by chapters of curmudgeonly Kris Kringles nationwide.

The idea is this: Corral a bunch of subversive pals together on a date in December, dress them all in Santa costumes, and release them en masse on the streets of society. They drink, they smoke, they curse, they pass out gifts, they pose for pictures, and they try to remain in character as Santa.

There are only four rules: Don't mess with kids, don't mess with security guards, don't mess with cops and don't mess with Santa - you know, the one people actually expect to see at the mall.

Santacons have been around since the mid '90s, when a group of San Francisco buddies decided to protest mall cheerfests by staging their own live, interactive rendition of Bad Santa. The idea spread.

Saturday marked the second annual Tampa Bay Santacon, organized by the Pinellas Cacophony Society, a group that's accustomed to combining comedy and anarchy. They've played urban golf with giant foam balls at Channelside, and they dressed as zombies to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving.

At 2 p.m., the Santas gathered in front of the West Shore Boulevard Starbucks in Tampa to tighten their beards and hit the road. There were 11 at first, then 15. By happy hour, the roving red menace included 16 Santas including one reporter and one photographer. And they brought extra costumes for stragglers.

First stop: WestShore Plaza. The Santas stormed from a 14-passenger van into Sears, hoping to make a complete loop around the mall, passing out toys, candy and tidings of comfort and joy. They took off their beards because the mall forbids face coverings.

They almost made it. But around turn three, a security guard stopped them, insisting they jump back in the sleigh and get out. The Santas obliged.

"This is fun already!" says Santa Joe Smith, 27, back outside Sears.

"And we haven't even started drinking yet!" adds Santa Martin Lagomarsini, 39.

Why - other than the fact that it's Christmas - do they do it?

Asked that very question over a shot of Bailey's at Blue Martini at International Plaza, Bill Clark, the 34-year-old Santa who misplaced his drink at Starbucks, just shrugs. He rounded up the Pinellas Cacophony Society as a way to shake up the monotony of day-to-day life. As for Santacon?

"It's funny," he said.

The truth is, everybody loves Santa. People stare, giggle, wave, snap photos, and pause their cell-phone conversations to say, "You're not going to believe what just walked by. ..."

At Blue Martini, Clark rounded up the troops. "Ho, ho, ho, it's time to go!" he bellowed. It was on to a liquor store, then Channelside, then Ybor, maybe a strip club or two ...

As the band of Santas left International Plaza, a security guard instructed them not to come back.

They won't. Not for another 12 months.

Jay Cridlin can be reached at (727) 893-8336 or




[Last modified December 17, 2006, 00:43:15]

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