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Ho, ho, ho! SantaCon is coming to towns

Hordes of jolly red suited types are gathering at cities around the world to indulge in some festive cheer ... and beers. So is SantaCon a fun charity event, or just an excuse for drunken misbehavior? Beth J. Harpaz reports.

It's a meetup, it's a party, it's a spectacle: SantaCon is coming to town - in fact, to nearly 300 towns and cities around the world.

Maybe you've seen them in your neighborhood: Dozens of Santas ho, ho, ho-ing in and out of bars, stopping traffic and posing for photos. The red-suited, white-bearded revelers have gathered in Trafalgar Square in London and Tian'anmen Square in Beijing. They've walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. And this past weekend in Los Angeles, they visited the space shuttle en masse at the California Science Center.

"It's innocent fun," said Tim Mambort, 27, who's been taking part in SantaCon in New York City for five years with friends from college. "You end up standing in a bar singing 'Jingle Bells' with people you just met, all dressed like Santa, or walking with hundreds of Santas to Central Park, or filling up an entire subway car with Santas."

But whether SantaCon is naughty or nice depends on whom you ask.

Organizers of the New York City event, which took place last Saturday, stressed that SantaCon "is not a bar crawl. Every time you call it that, a sugarplum fairy dies."

They said that 60 venues that took part in NYC SantaCon donated a portion of the day's proceeds to charity - raising an estimated US$45,000 - while the Santas were asked to bring two cans of food to support local food banks. Some 3,107 kilograms of canned food was collected at the starting point, with more handed in later.