Saint Nicks get into the holiday spirits at SantaCon

NEW YORK -- Santas came by the hundreds, reindeer formed a kick line and oversized elves cavorted with saucy Mrs.

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Clauses as a police helicopter circled overhead.

Welcome to SantaCon, the annual Christmastime costume-parade-meets-pub-crawl that was hoping this year would persuade New York it's more nice than naughty.

"Look out for your reindeer. Look out for your elves," organizers advised the crowd as Saturday's festivities began with a mix of safety messages and psyching-up: "Can I get a 'ho'?!"

Before long, over a thousand costumed revelers were headed off to bar-hop and make merry through Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Jessica Carr and Victoria Pirolli had turned themselves into snow globes, each encasing her head and torso in bubble-umbrella-like plastic, with a foam rubber base around the hips. The two science teachers and friends from New Jersey said they were at their fifth SantaCon for the creativity, not the carousing that earned the event an out-of-control reputation in recent years.

"We have fun," Pirolli said. "We don't pee in bushes or anything."

Tracing its origins to a prankish, anti-consumerist gathering in San Francisco in 1994, SantaCon has mushroomed into events in hundreds of cities. New York's is generally the biggest, drawing thousands of people.

It's also drawn criticism, particularly after the 2012 and 2013 celebrations generated two arrests, 85 summonses for disorderly conduct and other offences, and online videos of brawling St. Nicks. Organizers say there were no arrests or summonses last year.

Pressured to clean up SantaCon's act, organizers began telling police their plans in 2013. This year, they publicly released their route days ahead of time, got a permit to assemble at Brooklyn's McCarren Park and even agreed to tweet police advice about pedestrian safety.

Still, a dozen city and state officials publicly aired concerns about potential binge drinking and bad behaviour and asked liquor regulators to keep watch. Police Commissioner William Bratton on Friday warned "anybody who wants to come into the city and raise hell dressed up as Santa Claus -- we're not going to tolerate it," while NYPD Chief James O'Neill suggested the event was a burden at a time of heightened security concerns after attacks by extremists in Paris and elsewhere.

"We are in trying times all throughout the world, and to have to expend more resources on an event like this, at times, it's frustrating," O'Neill said. SantaCon's lawyer, Norman Siegel, said Saturday the group aimed to self-police anyone who got out of line.



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