Santa Rampage 1999
by Rico Gagliano(from LA Weekly, December 24 - 30, 1999)
photos Agent X-Ray, Walter Lutz

In December 1994, the Cacophony Society — a coalition of artists and techies with a yen for alcohol and public pranks — decided to celebrate the season by getting sauced and marauding around nighttime San Francisco in Santa costumes. The idea has since gone national, with Cacophony chapters from Portland to New York City staging their own Santa Rampages, Santa Cruizes, Santasms, even, in Portland, a Santafada.

L.A.’s third annual SantaCon ’99 began in earnest last Saturday morning, when an estimated 150 participants rendezvoused at Los Feliz’s venerable House of Pies. All manner of Santas were in attendance: Boy Santas, Girl Santas, Santas wearing gas masks, sexy miniskirted Santas and bare-chested Scottish Santas in white-fringed kilts. There were also a few elves, and, inexplicably, a guy in a bear suit. When the assembled finally embarked for the subway station at Sunset and Vermont, bristling with carefully concealed intoxicants and repeatedly chanting the single word "HO!" with loud and almost frightening intensity, the red-suited army stretched the length of a city block.

Reverend Al, L.A. Cacophony’s self-described "Grand Instigator," insisted there’s a deeper meaning to all this. "As recently as the 1800s, Christmas was celebrated with the same sort of carousing as New Year’s," he said. "People would go ‘wassailing’ from house to house, singing for free drinks, and if they didn’t get any, they’d take out a window or something. It was about going wild in the middle of winter."

"We’ve endured pious holiday entertainment for too long," agreed Santa Ho, organizer of this year’s Con. "It’s time to desanitize Christmas."

Most participants were less ontological about SantaCon. The point for them: Any environment, when filled with Santas, becomes inherently hilarious. SantaCon ’99, then, was essentially a series of variations on a single non sequitur joke. Hundreds of drunken Santas in the subway! Hundreds of drunken Santas at the Biltmore Hotel! Hundreds of drunken Santas ice skating! Hundreds of drunken Santas dancing with toothless junkies in a slum bar!

What was surprising is how funny that one joke could be, and for how long. And situations that come up along the way sometimes provided for unplanned moments of true satire. While plastering the trees outside City Hall with wrapping paper, garlands and ornaments ("Deck the Hall!" the Santas screamed), several enterprising Cacophonists lavished the same attention on the shopping carts of the homeless.

For their part, the homeless — and most "civilians" lucky enough to be conducting their daily business along the SantaCon route — seemed to enjoy the spectacle. Kids, especially, screamed with delight at the sight of so many potential gift-bearers, and the Santas rewarded them with candy canes, small bottles of ketchup or slices of processed cheese. The almost universal good will showed SantaConventioners continued into the Biltmore’s Grand Avenue Sports Bar, even when the ladies bathroom became ground zero for dozens of pot-smoking Santas of both sexes, and a few naughty Kringles started looting crystal bowls and cases of microbrew from the kitchen.

By the end of the day, Reverend Al seemed satisfied. "No arrests," he observed, his dirty gray Santa beard sagging down beneath his chin. "And so far, no injuries. I call that a successful year."

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