It's deck the howls

Anarchist Santas poke jolly old fun at commercialism and themselves

December 16, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,Sun reporter

As a chorus of tubas played "The First Noel" at Baltimore's Inner Harbor yesterday, Santa Claus started a fistfight with a figure he claimed was a Santa impersonator.

The two Santas rolled on the bricks, swinging and clawing at each other as children watched, confused.

"It's a Santa brawl!" someone shouted. But careful observers in the crowd wondered whether either combatant was the authentic Jolly Old Elf. One Santa, it seems, was wearing a gas mask, the other a skull mask beneath a red cap.

And, when the scrap was over, the two Santas helped each other up - to the applause of 13 other Santas - some wearing sunglasses, combat boots and fishnet stockings along with the standard red-and-white coats.

Was this the spirit of Christmas? It was certainly the Spirit of Santarchy - an anti-establishment holiday party that a group of jokers called the Cacophony Society started in San Francisco in 1994. The celebration has since spread to 49 cities worldwide, including New York and Washington.

The jolly anarchists were drawn to Baltimore's Harborplace by a Baltimore Santarchy Web site created in part by Karen Bradley, a professional event planner from Catonsville.

Bradley, who called herself "Santa Goddess," wore a red stocking cap wired with flashing lights and sported google-eyed sunglasses as she handed out candy canes to passing children. She said the whole point of the event was to have good-natured fun, without commercialism.

After listening to the tuba chorus yesterday, the Santas marched around the harbor, cracked jokes to passers-by, sang songs, distributed gifts and candy, and then hit the bars.

"It's like improvisational street theater," Bradley said, lighting up a cigarette in her Santa costume. "The fun of it is seeing the reactions of people."

From her bag of gifts, she whipped out a songbook. She explained that the tunes they had planned for later that night (after the kids were in bed) included "Away on a Bender," "Police Navidad," "Jingle Bells, Let's Raise Hell" and "God Rest Ye Merry Heretics."

The other Santas who gathered yesterday beside the Inner Harbor would identify themselves only as Santa Clauses - sometimes with a descriptive adjective or two. And they were reluctant to give away their ages.

For example, a man who identified himself only as "Big Santa," told a reporter that he was "younger than the earth and a little bit older than you." When asked his occupation, he replied, "Bringer of Joy."

Where does he live?

"I was considering the South Pole, but it was a little too bleak. So I went with the North Pole."

Another Santa, puffing on a cigar and wearing a gas mask around his neck, called himself "Peace Claus." He wore motorcycle boots and had a long chain dangling between his belt loop and wallet.

"The chain is there because Santa is not very organized and he doesn't want to leave his wallet and keys at a bar," Peace Santa said. "I'm here to spread cheer."

He held hands with a cheerful elf wearing a skull mask, stocking cap, and ripped red and green sweater. She called herself "Santa on Elm Street."

"I'm more of a punitive Santa," she explained.

Another woman identified herself as "Santa Panda." She wore a fuzzy white coat, red ears and tail and played an accordion randomly as the other Santas sang. "I don't know any Christmas carols - I'm actually Jewish," she laughed. "After the first line, I get lost."

One of the Santas approached a little boy in a stroller who was among the hundreds of shoppers outside Harborplace, which was trimmed with lights.

"Does he want a candy cane?" asked Goddess Santa.

"No. He's afraid of Santa Claus," replied Hugh Feeley, grandfather of the 1 1/2 -year old child and his 3-year-old sister. "All this is a little bit disturbing to me, because I believed in Santa until I was, like, 16 years old. ... I had to explain to the kids that these were all Santa's helpers."

Another shopper, Laurie Canevali, laughed. "Santarchy? I love it! It's so refreshing and spontaneous. It shows that Baltimore is not too uptight and serious."

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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