What’s worse than SantaCon? A copycat Santacon that’s stealing the idea and charging money to participate, with an advertising blitz that belongs on the naughty list.
SFist has traditionally had plenty of disdain for SantaCon, the annual Santa Claus-themed pub crawl that is indeed returning next weekend after last year’s COVID cancellation. But this particular SFist correspondent fondly recalls going through a jolly SantaCon phase in years past, before you could buy a Santa suit on Amazon, back when we would go to craft stores and meticulously hot-glue-gun together a whimsical Saint Nick Christmas outfit with all manner of creative yuletide. Because back then SantaCon was all about the community, man.
But even the contemporary SantaCon community is giving a lump of coal to a New York-based group called PubCrawls.com, who’ve started a knockoff SantaCon that’s charging $19.99 for a wristband, and advertising heavily with a highly heteronormative marketing campaign. That group is apparently throwing not one, but two knockoff SantaCons (this Saturday, December 4, and next Saturday, December 11). Their seemingly bot-written event text promises “VIP access” and “the best food and drink specials the bars have to offer during the holiday festivities.”
We see their flyer above, and don’t even get me started on the improper use of apostrophes. You’ll notice a lack of dates, time, location, or any additional context other than the SantaCon name and a conventionally attractive white woman. That’s because this out-of-town organization PubCrawls.com is throwing these copycat SantaCons in at least a dozen different cities nationwide, many of which already have established SantaCons (they also throw a ton of other pub crawls like Ugly Sweater Pub Crawls and Cinco de Mayo Pub Crawls).
This organization has additionally gummed up works on the Google/SEO front, buying up the domains SanFranciscoSantaCon.com and TheSantaCon.com, probably in hopes of scrooging money out of newbies who do not realize that the real SantaCon does not charge admission or sell wristbands.
SFist reached out to PubCrawls.com for comment, but we did not hear back.
The official SantaCon, for whatever faults it may have, has always been a free event. The copycat SantaCon has been charging money for their “VIP pub crawl” version since at least 2018, and the legitimate SantaCon organizers have been seeing red for years.
“They were calling their events ‘The Original SantaCon,’” says Tom DiBell, who's taken on the mantle of organizer and spokesperson for San Francisco SantaCon. "I had to say ‘Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Your event is not the original SantaCon. The original Santacon goes back now 26 years to an event that was held here in San Francisco."
"I said, 'You had nothing to do with it, don’t you ever advertise that you were the original. You weren’t,'" DiBell tells SFist. "So they stopped doing that. Now they’re just saying that they’re SantaCon."
Of course, DiBell himself is not the original SantaCon organizer. SantaCon goes back to 1994, and was organized by an anarchist-prankster collective with OG Burning Man cred called the Cacophony Society. It grew in size, and is now held in cities across the world. But the original organizers distanced themselves from the event as it acquired a reputation for boorish behavior and drunken debauchery, and even declared SantaCon dead in 2014. DiBell then took up coordinating the event and being its unofficial spokesperson, because clearly there's still some demand for the event.
“The ones that started this originally were aging hippies,” DiBell tells us. “When they started it, it was like a page out of the Anarchist’s Handbook.”
So the current SantaCon is not really the original SantaCon either, but at least stays true to its loose roots, and has never been a for-profit event.
“All SantaCons are free,” DiBell says. “There are those that collect money for a specific charity. In my case, I ask everybody to bring a new unwrapped toy [for a toy drive]. But that’s it. I don’t charge Dime One.”
Meanwhile, this Saturday’s paid iteration is $19.99 a ticket and starts (where else?) in the Marina, and next Saturday’s is $14.99 a ticket and also starts in the Marina. The promotion below gives you, well, a sense of what to expect.
“Their advertising has been a little heavy-handed,” DiBell says. “These folks are out there, be aware of them. If you want to spend your money, go right ahead. I’m not going to tell you no, but just understand that they’re not an official part of SantaCon.”
The ‘official’ SantaCon probably has no legal recourse here, since it’s an unpermitted event, and they certainly have no intellectual property claims, trademarks, or copyrights.
“I’m never going to go down that road," DiBell says. “This was started as an anarchist movement. It's kind of counterproductive if someone wants to trademark this. Somebody forcing us to trademark it, we’d say 'Go fuck yourself and use it anyway.'”