Searching for the True Meaning of Santacon

Amazing pictures reveal the quiet nobility, and hidden pain, of the world’s most hated holiday celebration.

As Christmas traditions go, the time-honored hating of the fruitcake had a pretty good run. But you don’t hear much about fruitcake anymore. There’s a new yuletide villain in town. Its name is SantaCon

This annual holiday bacchanal unleashes an army of Santas, who rampage through the streets terrorizing passerby. Eggnog-chugging rebels without a Claus, they nonetheless bear a striking resemblance to jolly old Saint Nick, except that instead of going from house to house delivering presents, they go from bar to bar, and the only gifts they leave behind are reeking puddles of vomit and urine. 

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Interestingly, this tradition dates back 20 years, to a performance art troupe in San Francisco whose aim was to highlight and critique the commercialization of the season. Over the years, it morphed into something a little less high-minded and a little more hedonistic, reaching its nadir with last year’s infamous shop-window handjob seen ’round the world. 

But what is the true meaning of SantaCon?

The answer can be found in the accompanying images taken during this year’s festivities by photographer Reuben Radding, which are easily the most noble and heroic SantaCon pictures ever made. Gaze into the eyes of these Santas — past the narcotized gleam, past the sneering effrontery. Look beyond that until you see the profound unease, the hurt. Then keep looking.

Which brings us to the event’s deeper essence. At its heart, SantaCon is an organized ritual of rage, aimed at the forces of cultural authority. Perhaps many of the participants are, as so many onlookers contend, raging D-bags. Fair enough. But travel back in time, to Christmases past, when these very same D-bags were innocent little children, wiping the sugarplums from their tired eyes and padding downstairs on Christmas morning in their footed PJs, to tear into their Dream Houses and PlayStations, Megazords, Polly Pockets and Super Soakers…gifts supposedly delivered by a crinkly-eyed old magical elf piloting a sleigh. 

Sorry to break it to you, but there was no elf. 

These youngsters were deceived, of course, systematically punked by their smirking Camcorder-wielding elders, each one discovering, in turn, from a cousin, a playmate, an older sibling, that the world is not a magical place — not in the slightest — and that their parents, their own parents, were a bunch of fucking liars.  

No wonder they’re angry. So if 15 or 20 Jaeger-bombs can help them convert their sense of betrayal into an evening of unbridled pleasure, their childhood wounds into pure joy, well that might just be the greatest gift of all. 

Follow Reuben Radding on Instagram.