By Alexander Besant
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands of merrymakers dressed like Santa Claus and his elves took to the streets of New York on Saturday for the annual pub crawl known as SantaCon, a Yuletide rite with a reputation for inspiring bad behavior among the revelers.
While some bar owners reported respectful crowds of red-and-white clad partiers, social media was alive with photos of Santas mooning motorists, passed out in doorways, and urinating on the street.
But thankfully, said bar manager Carlos Virgil, those particular Santas did not show up at Viva Tor in Brooklyn's hip Williamsburg neighborhood.
"We had a safe event for everybody, and I'm happy about that because in the past, SantaCon has had a bad reputation," said Virgil, whose bar hosted more than 1,000 Santas and elves as an official SantaCon destination.
More than 14,000 people signed up to participate on the SantaCon NYC Facebook page.
"I'm just here to have fun and be a part of something," said a Santa-suited Terance McNamara, 25, of Hoboken, New Jersey.
Last year, some city officials urged bar and restaurant owners to boycott the event for fear of rowdiness, vomiting and public urination, which has marred some of the events in the past. But the backlash appears to have eased as organizers have worked to re-brand the event as a good-spirited fundraiser for charity.
"We are trying to transit from what SantaCon was to something more positive for this year and in the future," said Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer who is working with the organizers.
On Saturday evening, Jasmine Henderson and her friends, wearing Santa hats and red clothes, stood near a Williamsburg beer garden after a few hours of merrymaking and tried to decide where to go next.
She said the Santas she partied with have only been a little bit naughty.
"I haven't run into any problems," said Henderson, 25. "The most I saw were lots of lap dances."
The event originated in San Francisco more than 20 years ago as a boozy, tongue-in-cheek protest against the commercialization of Christmas.
"SantaCon is a cultural public commentary on the Christmas season, from a critique of consumerism to cultural and charitable giving," said Siegel, who regards SantaCon as an exercise in free speech. "It's part satire and has an edge."
The New York crawl, one of dozens scheduled in cities around the world, wound its way to Manhattan's Lower East Side, where most of this year's participating bars are located.
In the past, organizers have kept the pub crawl route secret until the night before, unsettling residents and businesses in neighborhoods anticipating a deluge of well-oiled merrymakers. This year the map of events was released earlier this week.
Last year's SantaCon in New York City coincided with street demonstrations against police violence sparked by killings of unarmed black men, complicating security considerations. Even so, there were no arrests or summonses issued last year, Siegel said.
"I'm not worried about the event," said Greg Jacobson, general manager at Verboten, another hosting bar. "That's what I have security for."
(Writing By Frank McGurty; Editing by Bill Rigby and David Gregorio)