'Santarchy' Serves Up Holiday Cheer With a Twist
Annual Celebration Mixes Good Tidings, Adult Themes

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 9, 2007

Allison Stamfill, 31, lives in Dupont Circle and works for a nonprofit agency in the District. All very ordinary. But when the Christmas season comes, it's her time to cut loose, joining hundreds of like-minded revelers in what's known as "Santarchy."

For the past three years, Stamfill has dressed up as one of her favorite Christmas characters to walk around the city, passing out candy to children with others in the group. This year, in a colorful army uniform, cap and painted cheeks, Stamfill was a nutcracker soldier.

"Every year, you meet new people and hang out with your old friends," she said.

But participants do more than just pass out candy. They stroll the city wearing traditional Christmas costumes -- mostly Santa suits -- singing, dancing and, yes, drinking alcohol and smoking cigars.

It's Santas gone wild.

The celebration is held in 49 cities around the world, including Philadelphia, Dallas, Montreal and Stockholm -- and, yesterday, the District.

"It's a party," said Stacy Young, 28, of Arlington County, dressed in a red miniskirt, a short red and white jacket, fishnet stockings and boots.

Washington has had a Santarchy celebration for the past six years. The first celebration was in San Francisco in 1994 by a group of 35 folks in Santa suits, organized by the Cacophony Society, a loosely organized group of pranksters.

Yesterday's festivities began on the steps of the National Museum of Natural History. About 80 people were dressed as Santas, elves, reindeer and anything else they deemed traditional.

Dozens of Santas and elves commandeered the carousel on the Mall. Then they pranced arm-in-arm across busy 14th Street toward the Washington Monument. Traffic came to a standstill with the sight of dozens of male and female Santas dancing across the street. Several Santas even handed out candy to angry drivers honking their horns.

"Hey, where's your Christmas spirit?" Jason Schneider of Silver Spring asked.

Onlookers, especially children, seemed confused. "He's not fat. He's too skinny to be Santa Claus," said Jonathan Schneider, 6, who was here from Virginia Beach visiting his grandmother. "And Santa Claus isn't a girl," insisted his twin sister, Jessica.

The Santas handed out candy and treats and harmonized traditional Christmas carols at the base of the Washington Monument. When they approached police on the Ellipse, they broke out into a version of "Police Navidad."

But the real partying began after dark, when the group hit bars across the city, breaking into songs for adults, such as "Wreck the Halls" and "12 Days of Christmas," featuring party drinks: "12 tequila slammers, 11 mind erasers . . . two rum and Cokes and a big [expletive] pitcher of beer."

Kenny Blunt of Brooklyn, N.Y., decided to forgo New York's Santarchy celebration, which also was yesterday, to join his girlfriend, Meredith Keen of Potomac, for the Washington gathering.

With his wide-brim red hat tilted to one side and Mardi Gras beads, Blunt called himself "Gangsta Santa." Keen, in a tight red-and-white dress and boots, was Ms. Candy Cane.

Cathy Virgenock of Springfield was a walking Christmas tree complete with ornaments attached to her body.

Wearing a gray wig, fuzzy slippers and walking with a cane, Sue Kemp, 42, of Hagerstown was "Grandma" from "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." On her nightgown were black hoof prints.

"I came down to see that the Department of Transportation does something about these out-of-control reindeer," she said.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company