Santa Claus is coming to Scottsdale this weekend, and he's got some major backup. Thousands upon thousands of Kris Kringle clones, as well as a nonstop retinue of elves, reindeer, trees, snow bunnies, Grinches, walking gifts, candy cane cuties, and other red-and-white revelers will overrun Old Town in search of Christmastime and nighttime adventures as a part of Santarchy Phoenix 2013 on Saturday, December 7.
The Valley's version of the holiday bar crawl, a localized spinoff of other Santarchy and SantaCon events that have taken place across the country stretching back to the mid-1990s, has been organized by the urban prankmeisters of the Arizona Cacophony Society since 2007. It's evolved from a relatively small culture jam-style stunt and excuse to imbibe ho-ho-horrendous amounts of alcohol while wearing Santa suits into an event that's attended by thousands every year.
If you've never been to a Santarchy, here's a rundown of stuff to bring, what to wear, where you'll be drinking, and a few other things you ought to know.
You Need A Costume to Participate... Otherwise, you'd be thumbing your nose at the spirit of the event and would instead just be another drinker in the usual weekend mob that occupies Old Town. And please refrain from simply throwing on a Santa hat and calling it good. That's cheating. (Well, unless it includes a pair of assless leather chaps and little else, like one brave soul wore in 2012.) Some will keep it relatively simple, while others will dress to the nines.
But if the standard standard red and white Santa uniform seems a bit boring, consider going as some interesting or creative variant, like Vader Claus, Samurai Santa, or Pimp Kringle. Arizona Cacophony member Larry Streech and one of his pals, for instance, are planning to don biker gear (including vests, patches, and whatnot) for their "Sons of Santarchy" costume. Then again, you could forego the Clausian mythos altogether, which brings us to our next point...
...But It Doesn't Necessarily Need to Be Santa Or Mrs. Claus, an elf, or one of Saint Nick's eight galloping reindeer for that matter. During the more recent Santarchys, we've witnessed Jesus and his posse protesting the theft of his birthday while armed with picket signs, a well-to-do Jack Frost, walking wreathes, and even The Grinch. Streech has worn a hand-sewn gingerbread man outfit the last couple years. "Everybody kinda does their own thing and makes it unique but they're all Santa or Christmas-related at least," he says. "It's always impressive because there's so many different types every year."
Bring Some Extra Cash... No, not for bail money (although you never know), but rather because it's quicker and easier to deal with getting drinks with bills instead of fumbling around with a credit card or forgetting to close your tab before heading to the next bar. Also, if you desire a ride back to your car after a few hours of walking and drinking, Old Town Scottsdale's pedicab and golf cart drivers work for tips only and don't take plastic.
...And Your Camera... Because an overwhelming gaggle of Santas and people dressed in holiday-related costumes mobbing a particular bar or the sidewalks of Scottsdale all at once is a sight to behold. Ditto for some of the shenanigans that transpire, including Santa riding a mechanical bull, hamming it up, or getting rowdy. All are worthy of a snapshot or two.
...Not to Mention Your ID and Good Walking Shoes This is just de rigueur advice for a night out in Old Town Scottsdale, especially the latter, considering you'll be hitting up several bars along the way. As for which particular places, that's a bit of a mystery, which means it would behoove you to...
Definitely Follow Arizona Cacophony on Social Media As of this writing, Santarchy's organizers haven't disclosed a specific route that the bar crawl will follow, other than the starting point at Dos Gringos, if there is even an exact route to begin with. In previous years, participants will generally head eastward from Craftsman Court across Scottsdale Road into the heart of the Entertainment District. Other than that, it's generally a free flowing thing with some stops at different clusters of adjacent bars (such as Firehouse and Giligin's or American Junkie or The Lodge).
After about 30 minutes at each general location, organizers will announce where to head or post the next stop on Arizona Cacophony's Twitter or Santarchy Facebook page. "They typically don't even give out that information until you're there and then everyone goes from bar to bar," Streech says. "Once you're with the group, they'll send out a tweet in case people decide to show up later in the night." And if you do take too long getting there, you might miss out on one of the more spectacular parts of the night.
Mourning Fyre Will Perform Along the Way The past two Santarchy's have featured interludes of sorts that are filled with choreographed thrills, chills, and flames aplenty, thanks to the artists of Mouring Fyre. In 2011, the local performance troupe engaged in a fire-dancing show inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas on the Paolo Soleri Bridge with a spirited snowball fight between Santas afterwards. And their show at the most recent Santarchy in 2012 was just as spectacular.
So what's planned for this year? Mouring Fyre's Corinne Vivers promises they'll "doing the fire-eating, fire-breathing thing," as well as showcasing a new juggler that will throw balls of flames into the air, followed by stilt-walking around as giant gingerbread men.
Santarchy Collects Tons of Toys for Charity... While it's not mandatory to participate, Arizona Cacophony members heavily encourage everyone coming out to Santarchy to bring along a new, unwrapped plaything (generally in the $10 to $30 range) to donate. Streech estimates that he's packed the back of his Nissan Excursion "from top to bottom" with more than a thousand toys that were contributed during the last two Santarchys. He then bequeaths the haul to 68-year-old Valley resident and Kris Kringle impersonator Bob Grinnell (a.k.a. "Santa Bob") for distribution to local underprivileged children.
...And Has Become A Massive Event Back when the Arizona Cacophony Society held this first local version of Santarchy in 2007, Streech estimates there were a little over 100 people participating. "The first couple years it was really funny because it was kind of new and everybody was kind of shocked to see all these Santas," he says. "Typically with a Cacophony Society event, it was a little bit of spontaneous, unplanned fun with just going out and doing things crazy and catching people off guard." In the ensuing years, however, the crowd numbers have increased exponentially. "Now that it's grown so much, everybody's expecting it and knows about, so it's not so much unplanned anymore. It's still something that everyone looks forward to."
But It's Not A Protest In Any Way Nor is it a statement about the commercialization of the holidays, the true meaning of Christmas, a protest against Santa (other than in jest), or any other sociopolitical subject. Per the Arizona Cacophony site, Santarchy is "just a bunch of Santas getting together to have a good time." As long as things don't get out of hand, however, because...
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There's No "Anarchy" During Santarchy According to its website, the Arizona Cacophony Society doesn't "condone or encourage any kind of vandalism or violence" during the event. Futhermore, organizers state that "our Santas do not destroy property, steal merchandise or do harm to others." In other words, don't trash the place, get in any catfights or man-dances, or engage in any examples of the bad kind of rowdy. Instead, consider spontaneous dance-offs, random caroling, bringing an instrument for an impromptu jam session, or other harmless skylarkings.
Santarchy 2013 begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, December 7, at Dos Gringos in Scottsdale. Participation is free.