In Portland, Ore., A Crackdown On SantaCon Each December, thousands pour into the streets of major American cities for SantaCon, a festival of debauchery, in which crowds of drunk people in red suits crawl the local bars. In Portland, Ore., rumors of a crackdown are driving the semi-organized event to look for a new venue.
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In Portland, Ore., A Crackdown On SantaCon

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In Portland, Ore., A Crackdown On SantaCon

In Portland, Ore., A Crackdown On SantaCon

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This time of year, you can find Santa Claus, or at least people dressed up like him, in parades, at the mall or ringing bells for the Salvation Army. And as April Baer of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, you may also see a more subversive Santa out on the street, enjoying an event called SantaCon.

APRIL BAER: Take one look at the overly corporate side of Christmas and reach for the bottle. That is the spirit of SantaCon, says David Owens.

Mr. DAVID OWENS (Organizer, SantaCon Portland): My first SantaCon technically was, I believe, 2003. The first one I remember is 2004.

BAER: He's one of the people behind SantaCon Portland. His nom de guerre is Santa No Pants. SantaCon is hundreds and hundreds of people in red suits, preferably the cheapest they can find, converging for a pub crawl and show of creative disorder. Think Burning Man with a little eggnog thrown in, and you're starting to get the picture. There are hundreds of homemade YouTube videos of SantaCons across the world - Santa slurring bawdy Christmas carols in Boulder, Colorado.

(Soundbite of YouTube videos)

Unidentified Men: (Singing) Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won't you hose me down tonight?

BAER: And there's Santa catapulting fruitcakes in Asheville, North Carolina.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BAER: Don't look now, but there's Santa shaking that scarlet-clad booty through Portland's famous bookstore, Powell's.

(Soundbite of music)

BAER: It's not pretty, but it does look like fun. SantaCon has a few simple rules. Don't mess around with kids. Don't bait the police or bar bouncers. And don't toy with your fellow Santa. Portland police have put up with ho-ho-hooliganism for several years, but last year, the event blew up. Close to 1,000 liquored-up Santas turned out, and some did not keep to the rules. This year, organizers say they hope to weed out some chaff. They've moved SantaCon out to the nearby suburb of Hillsboro.

Sergeant BRIAN SCHMAUTZ (Portland Police): I've heard that perhaps Washington County's going to get a few Santas this year.

BAER: Sergeant Brian Schmautz with the Portland Police sounds less than devastated.

Sgt. SCHMAUTZ: And you know, that's - we want to share the wealth of enjoyment around the community so that we don't get to have it all.

BAER: Portland's would-be Santas are busy preparing for the big day.

(Soundbite of talking)

BAER: The SantaCon goers recently transformed an empty warehouse into a twisted toy workshop.

Unidentified Man #1: Hacksaw would be better for that.

BAER: Armed with glue guns, pipe cleaners and elf-like industry, they spill bags of thrift-store toys out on tables. Here's Santa Luna showing off her latest creation. It looks a deranged second-grader's craft project.

SANTA LUNA (Member, SantaCon): This - well, it's, like, this little talking angel; it's got a skull on its head with some googly eyes and a long tongue. And it talks when you squeeze its hand.

Recorded Voice: Bless me, God. Please be my guide.

BAER: Preparation continues for tomorrow's SantaCons in Portland, Washington, D.C., and Madison, but better watch out, Pittsburg. SantaCon's coming December 13th. And don't you cry, Tulsa. Santa is getting it on Oklahoma-style December 20th. For NPR News, I'm April Baer in Portland, Oregon.

(Soundbite of song "Jingle Bells")

BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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