This started out as a two part post and...kind of grew. So I'm going to do a little mini-series here through Christmas up to the 30th, with a post every three days, look at some of the santa suits I've made over the years, and try and pick out what I think were some of the interesting parts of making them - which includes some of the earliest crafting I did as an adult. There'll also be a bit more background story than usual because well, what's Christmas without some stories? :) I hope you'll enjoy the journey - if not, it'll all be wrapped up (ho ho ho!) by New Year's and we'll be back to whatever this blog usually is...
As I begin this it's the start of December, and I'm where I usually am at this time of year - up to my eyeballs in white fur.
In 2005, I'd gone back to university as a mature student and was in the second year of my degree. I was slowly unwinding from two and a half torturous years as a ticket inspector on Thameslink Rail, and (mostly) enjoying the relative freedom of being in education again after several years of fairly grinding, menial jobs.
I was also starting to test my limits and experiment with challenging my fears and assumptions, on a path that would ultimately lead me to get rid of almost all my possessions and go hitch-hiking round the world (which may be a story for another time). And it was during the summer, while I was temping at the Highways Agency to augment my student loan, that I first heard of Santacon.
I can't even remember what forum I was on when I first heard about it, but I discovered that every year a group of people dressed up in santa suits and rampaged around London (and many other cities around the world), spreading joy, festivity and confusion wherever they went (and in many cases consuming large quantities of alcohol). They visited historic sites, sang carols from the plinth of Nelson's Column, and generally celebrated Christmas in an expansive and raucous fashion.
I found my way to the Santacon Yahoo group, and discovered that Santacon participants were in the vast majority expressive, artistic and anarchistic, enormously welcoming and devoted to creativity and adventure. I was inspired, welcomed, made a bunch of friends, and decided that when December arrived, I would have to be out there in red.
I'm not sure how many of us were there at my first London Santacon - I'd guess between one and two hundred. We gathered at the Ship pub just round the corner from Holborn Station, and many of us met in person for the first time. We got our first pints in, then gathered outside ready to move off.
But the part I can still vividly remember was getting ahead of the crowd onto Great Queen Street to take a photo, turning around...and seeing that sea of red and white pour down the road towards me.
That day we beseiged the Freemason's Hall (despite a prior agreement that we could go in they understandably panicked a bit when they saw us coming and locked the doors) and sang rebellious Christmas songs, we swarmed the ice rink at Somerset House, charged up and down tube stations, explored the Tate Modern engine hall exhibit and sang heavily modified carols to deeply confused tourists from Nelson's Column.
As night fell we filled the funfair at Leicester Square and formed a blurry red tide washing down Oxford Street under the lights. We hugged, danced and formed an ecstatic crowd worshipping an animatronic Santa outside a shop in Soho. I made some of the best friends of my life, who in the following years I would follow across the world, to Houston Texas, San Francisco and into the Nevada Desert. I was hooked.
Since then I've done ten London Santacons, plus the Vegas Santa Rampage, Burning Man Sili Santacon and the Xmas in July Santa Rampage with the folks who started it all - the Cacophany Society of San Francisco. Some years I miss it out of necessity, some years I'm just not feeling it, but it keeps drawing me back and every October or so, whatever else is on my mind, a part of me starts making plans. And the most important thing to plan is the santa suit.
It is perfectly acceptable to attend Santacon in a cheap felt santa suit from the local party shop. Pretty much every santa has been there and knows the special qualities of the cheap suit - they split at the crotch after half an hour, the belt is basically a sticker, the beard sheds fur continuously and the first time you walk out in the rain (or spill beer down yourself during a passionate discussion about elf rights) the whole thing starts dissolving. It's part of the experience, and has its own nobility.
But most santas, at least after a year or two, like to modify or even make their own costume and develop a unique santa persona. I count among my good friends Bluebeard Santa, Badass Pimp Daddy Santa (and a number of lesser pimp santas), Super Santa, Don King Santa, Satan Santa, various Discordian santas and a host of others. I've seen robot santas, black PVC santas, metal santas, Mexican santas.
Reindeer, trees, presents and other Christmassy themes are always welcome. Elves, sadly, were excluded in the past, but these days most santas have become more progressive and welcome our pointy-eared brothers and sisters with open arms (rather than the traditional Santa method of expressing disapproval - throwing sprouts).
As a teenager and in my early twenties I was never much for dressing up. But for whatever reason, maybe because I was starting to spread my wings creatively and experiment with my identity, I wanted to have a unique Santa persona. I was hugely immersed in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft at the time, so I chose to go as Cthulhu Claus.
See you soon!