"It's a SantaCon for people who have been doing it for 10 or 15 years and are tired of it being co-opted by busloads of college kids from upstate or drunken 22-year-olds from the suburbs," said organizer and East Village resident Abby Ehmann, 54, who helped set up the main event nearly a decade ago.
The alternative SantaCon Detour seeks to recapture what Ehmann and others described as the event's countercultural roots as a "dress-up, anti-shop-'til-you-drop culture jam," and not "a bar crawl" or "puke fest."
As SantaCon's organizers described in a press release: "Santacon began in 1994 as San Francisco’s Santarchy, a culture-jamming event created...to point out the absurdity of America’s consumerist holiday traditions."
But the event has changed over the years, despite the best efforts of SantaCon organizers, Ehmann said.
"[Now it's] an opportunity to get s--tfaced," she said, especially for college kids.
Organizers of the main SantaCon event declined to comment.
The main SantaCon has drawn jeers from many New Yorkers, who say the event fills streets with disruptive drunk people.
NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly weighed in on SantaCon on Monday, calling it "the type of event that sort of makes New York the city it is," but asking participants to behave.
“We just ask people to act responsibly," he said. "It’s not nice for children to see Santas fighting each other. Talk about ruining their myth.”
Residents and community leaders in Hell's Kitchen have accused SantaCon revelers of "public urination, assaults on locals and outright nudity during the eight hours the Santas were in our neighborhood," as Community Board 4 member Katherine Consuelo-Johnson wrote in a September email to event organizers.
Complaints spurred a lieutenant with the NYPD's Midtown North Precinct to send a letter to about 30 bars and restaurants in the area earlier this month asking them not to welcome SantaCon revelers this year.
"Having thousands of intoxicated partygoers roam the streets urinating, littering, vomiting and vandalizing will not be tolerated in our neighborhood," Lt. John Cocchi said to the bar managers he contacted in the precinct, the borders of which are roughly bounded by 45th to 59th streets, between Park Avenue and the Hudson River.
The Detour, now in its second year, will start at the same location as the main SantaCon on Saturday Dec. 14 but then head in a different direction, making eight stops at parks, restaurants and bars in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. The starting point, as with the main SantaCon event, will not be announced until the day before the event.
"This smaller SantaCon is an eclectic group of basically original Santas, people who have been doing it a long time, who have great costumes," said Sandra Glazer, 60, a paralegal living in Stuyvesant Heights, who participated last year and plans to join again next month.
"You're not going to see a lot of Duane Reade Santas," she added.
The Detour will attract an older, more sedate crowd than the main event, said Ehmann, a costume designer and writer who also makes signs for Burning Man.
"If you're a 22-year-old, you're going to see [Detour SantaCon] is going to be a bunch of 50-year-olds," she said. "We wouldn't want them, and they wouldn't want us. They want to be with slutty Santa elves. They want to be drinking in the streets and jumping on taxis."
Trevor Kapp contributed reporting.