Santacon is known as a day of holiday-themed, beer-fueled revelry that delights some and annoys many others. However, there’s one bright side to the event that fills city streets with hundreds of drunk Santas near the holidays: It raises tens of thousands of dollars for charity each year.
It’s not clear how much money Santacon—which is held in dozens of cities around the world—has raised in the more than two decades since it was was founded. Not all cities run their events for charity, though those that do, most notably New York City, disburse the amount among a number of local philanthropic organizations.
As for a total ballpark figure, however, Santacon’s organizers have “no idea,” the organization said in an email Friday. However, in New York City—the largest Santacon in the world where tens of thousands of Santas take to the streets—organizers say the event has raised more than $200,000 for local charities since the holiday-themed pub crawl started in 2012. These organizations include Safe Horizon, which supports victims of domestic violence and abuse, and Urban Pathways, which aids homeless New Yorkers.
Other Santacons—like San Francisco and Portland, which are the second- and third-largest events after New York City’s, organizers said—also raise money for local charities. At San Francisco’s event on Saturday, attendees are asked to donate a toy for children in need, while Portland’s Santacon will benefit the Portland Police Bureau’s Sunshine Division, which provides clothing and other necessities to local children.
Still, others are free to attend, like that in Hoboken, N.J., across the river from New York City. There, attendees are encouraged—but not required—to make a philanthropic contribution to the local Boys & Girls Club before they don a Santa costume and start drinking.
Santacon wasn’t always a charitable event, or even a drinking party. It began in San Francisco in 1994 as a performant art piece intended “to make whimsical fun” of the commercialism surrounding Christmas, founder John Law told the Village Voice in 2014. That year, 34 participants clad in Santa suits marched through San Francisco gatecrashing parties and looking for other ways to “shock people,” Law said.
The event has become somewhat different in tone and purpose, transforming from a spectacle to, well, a drunken spectacle. The Christmas-focused day-drinking event has annoyed everyone from police officers to bartenders, some of which forbid people from entering their establishments on Santacon if they’re wearing a costume.