Santarchy 2000, Auckland, New Zealand
The Santa Who Stole Christmas
Can a motley
band of Santas find the true meaning of Christmas? Or is it buried beneath
the materialism of the Christmas consumerfest?
The first thing you should know about putting on a Santa suit is that it’s like a mask. It’s warm, it’s itchy and the beard is uncomfortable, but with it comes almost complete anonymity. When people look at you they’re completely unguarded, childlike in their engagement, unaware of what’s on the other side of the disheveled beard and stained cotton hat. On December 23rd there could have been anyone underneath those fifteen-dollar suits.
Despite what the name suggests, Santarchy is not just about anarchy in Santa suits (although this was the unfortunate interpretation of a number of unwelcome anarchists). The chaos of Santarchy has more structure – a sort of rebellion against the modern depiction of Christmas, which has transformed from a time of giving to a time of buying and mass consumption. A recent poll in the US showed that 91% or Americans agree that Christmas has been overcommercialised.
“It’s like nobody even cares what we are celebrating anymore,” reflects Kris Kringle, a philosophical Santarchist. December 25th was originally a midwinter pagan festival for Mithra, the god of light, and Saturn, the god of bounty. It was only in 325 AD that the Bishop of Rome, Pope Julius I, established December 25th as the birthday of Christ. And during Christ’s lifetime, the celebration of birthdays was considered pagan.
As for Santa Claus, the rumour that his modern image – a jolly old man in a red-and-white suit – was created by the Coca Cola Company is not entirely true. However, it was a Coca Cola marketing scheme that cemented this image into the public consciousness. “Nowadays, Santa Claus has become a figure of festivity who merely encourages consumption, and it is the subversive philosophy of Santarchy to dismantle this cultural icon,” says Kringle. As for flying Reindeer – Rudolph was created by a New York ad maker in 1939 as part of a marketing scheme for the Montgomery Ward group of department stores.
Wearing a Santa suit is like cheap cotton Viagra – this isn’t some obscure fetish, but merely the ability to have strangers greet you with open arms, coupled with the invincibility of anonymity. All the girls love Santa, and Santa is very welcoming – “Come site on my knee, little girl.” Even old ladies old enough to be Father Christmas’ mother are asked, “What would you like for Christmas, little one?”
We barge into McDonald’s and our bright colours merge with the tasteless décor of this brothel of mass consumption. The employees’ faces light up – “Is this a promotion?” Little do they know that these educated Santas are aware of the billions of dollars that go into converting the Amazonian rainforest into thousands of McDonald’s beef farms, and the millions of McDonald’s cattle that are inhumanely slaughtered by bullets to the head each year. McDonald’s consolidation of the Christmas mass-consumption mindset is symbolized by their partnership with the Coca Cola Company, which is clearly evident from an image decorating their cups around Christmas time showing a Santa not surprisingly drinking his trademark beverage. “Santa Claus wants to know if you’ve been naughty or nice this year?” The Santarchists roar back, “Naaaughty!” The employees aren’t surprised that these Santas don’t drink Coca Cola.
Wearing a Santa suit is like cheap cotton Viagra. This isn't some obscure fetish, but merely the ability to have strangers greet you with open arms..."
“It’s all about having a good time. We do it for the little kiddies,” says one of the good vibe Santas. “I say Santa Cause, not Santarchy.” Clearly there is an element of uncertainty in the pack, as some of the Santarchists are unable to articulate a valid reason for their actions. But despite their fundamental disagreement with its roles of political satire and social commentary, the good vibe Santas accompany the true Santarchists to have a beer at a nearby Irish pub.
At the pub, their lack of commitment is disappointingly revealed when they are quickly distracted by a young lady who delights on sitting on Santa’s knee. The good vibe Santas begin spading – “Have you been naughty or nice?” “How about Santa slips on a stocking and comes down your chimney?” “Does your turkey need stuffing?” “Wanna go to the North Pole?” “You better not have been naughty because Santa’s got a very full sack.”
Fuck! It is a well-known fact that young ladies have a mysterious interest reserved for men in suits, and Santa is no exception. As we leave, out numbers are disappointingly reduced to a dedicated three cursing along the sidewalk in isolated humiliation.
Our maudlin surliness is broken as a half-open truck drives past, literally stocked full with dozens of choir kids singing Christmas carols at the tops of their lungs to the direction of a conductor. “It’s like our own personal soundtrack is just driving by,” reflects one Santa as he breaks into an aerobics routine followed by exuberant street dancing and cheering – luckily this Santa has been to Jenny Craig’s.
We make our way to Westfield where Big Daddy Christmas occupies Santa’s seat in his grove and then a further Santa sits on his knee. The essence of Santarchy is that even two Santas in the same place at the same time is like a rip in the space-time continuum – it contravenes the laws of physics. If this wasn’t 8:30 at night, then some kids might have been seriously scarred for life. Already, at least one kid has been scared to tears by Santa’s fearsome joie-de-vivre.
Psychology professor John Kirkland explains this by Santa Claus’ almost monster-like characteristics, “This is a stranger in a big costume with no recognizable facial features, and parents expect their children to cuddle him and whisper a secret in his ear.” Furthermore, the sort of man who can find time to work during the day for $13 per hour is probably either unemployed or an actor “between jobs.” No parents would lead their offspring to the ho-ho-homeless men in Aotea Square, although there’s a pretty good chance that he fits into a very similar demographic, plus the huge distended belly and unkempt beard.
So, are we spoiling it for the kids? Or are they better off knowing the truth? Belief in Santa Claus requires a warped view of reality that is disruptive to cognitive development. As a recent study in Spy Magazine revealed, even the existence of a single Santa Claus contravenes the laws of physics. For Santa to deliver presents to every worthy Christian household around the world in a single night, he must be traveling at an estimated speed of 650 miles per second, subjecting him to lethal centrifugal forces 17,500 times greater than the force of gravity.
The Santa myth is a corporate monster encouraging parents to deliberately deceive their children while simultaneously robbing themselves of thanks for any presents that they want to give to them. This leads to problems when children with richer parents tend to get better presents than those with parents who are less well off, encouraging the poorer parents to spend more money than they can afford.
It must say something about Westfield’s standard of Yuletide spirit that several people thought these drunken, foulmouthed Santas were actually on a break. “Who’s paying you?” we were frequently asked, as if to neglect the possibility that not everything revolves around money at Christmas time. Well maybe it does in Westfield. Kris Kringle jumps into a window display and freezes, blatantly demonstrating the sly link between Santa Claus and mass-consumption.
The next stop is a hardcore show at Pizza Pizza. Kris Kringle explains an interesting rationale for this outing: “The punk shows juxtapose a trusted paternal figure in dens of ill-repute emphasizing the sacredness of this figure of festivity that society holds a mere merchant who encourages consumption.” A few hours earlier he was preaching the merits of veganism and the benefits of having big balls at a house party. At the punk show we are given free entry to the show, an invitation to a barbecue and a huge sack of punk merchandise.
Ironically, throughout the day we receive far more presents than we give. Earlier on, while dancing outside Tommy Gun, we were given five tickets to an all-ages (read underage) dance party. The guy giving these tickets away does so on the assumption that we would be keen on young girls, and due to his proclivity to having children sitting on his knee all day, this is probably a reasonable assumption.
It is now Christmas Eve and we chance upon a hen party (not a stag party, it’s always the girls who show the most interest in Santa). We’re told we can kiss the bride for a dollar. Cunty Claws wants to know what he can get for a fifty. Unsuccessful, we head down to Leftfield to sleaze with the children there.
So there we are – exhausted after a sixteen-hour binge, at the bottom of Queen Street, waiting in a surprisingly short cue in suits that are showing wear, beer stains and general dilapidation. We’re wearing slippers, sandals, socks, and sneakers with a gaping rotten hole revealing a gnarled, glittered toenail. Not surprisingly, the bouncer turns us away. But a higher power intervenes as the manager overrules this harsh decision. No sooner than we walk in does some blond girl want to dance with Santa. We spend the rest of the night on the dancefloor, beckoning girls with our leering eyes and lazy fingers, making a mockery of the enormous, seedy Santa statue outside Whitcoull’s. Our coat-check number at Leftfield is C69.
Even so, it was amazing how much awareness 300 e-mails, 150 assorted postersand a bFM interview were able to achieve. That morning, even The New Zealand Herald published a Max Media cartoon reminding the happy consumers that December 23rd was the day of Santarchy. But perhaps another setback was the early starting hour. “10am was a little earl to get psyched up,” was a popular excuse used by many a potential Santarchist who enjoyed their sleep in on the Saturday morning.
“Santarchy 2001 was more like a trial run,” reflects Kringle, “a spontaneous idea organized in only a fortnight, it was not without its setbacks.”
“Next year is going to be huge,” predicts Kringle. “We’re going to start publishing the event really early, and we’re going to order in a whle lot of Santa suits so that everybody can join in and be naughty.” But it’s not just about being naughty. “Santarchy is about living a little, having a bit of fun, and dismantling the image of a consumerist Father Christmas all at the same time.” Perhaps it really is the postmodern deconstructionist spirit of Christmas.