Guest Columnist: This Friday, Beware of Falling Santas
Years ago, downtown State College hosted The Phi Psi 500, a charity event including costumed people strolling along from bar to bar and drinking. The drinking must have somehow offended someone’s sense of propriety, and the Phi Psi 500 went away.
This Friday, a relatively new and growing annual event, The Santa Crawl, will reclaim a part of the Phi Psi 500 legacy. While I personally do not drink, I believe that alcohol can be enjoyed responsibly, and if it is for charity, all the better.
But make no mistake, this is not a bunch of college students taking to the streets. The Santa Crawl has grown to include college students but is dominated by people not in college. Two years ago, I caught up with the group.
The first time I saw it I almost drove off the road laughing. In the windows of Kildare’s were hundreds of Santas, drinks in hand. By the time I parked the car they were off to the next stop, and the parade of Santas extended a block and a half.
I had a Santa hat on only to realize how absolutely inadequate my attire was. This year I have the full suit. But the roster of crawlers has included Jack Frost, a Steelers Santa, reindeer (and a sleigh), The Nutcracker, angels, Christmas trees and everyone’s favorite Don Ho Ho Ho, the Hawaiian Santa. Don Ho Ho Ho probably leaves bad poi in the stockings of the naughty.
But why do all this? It all started as a fun idea with local resident Larry Fall dressing in a Santa suit and literally crashing Christmas parties to hand out stuffed animals. His habit of crashing parties evolved into traveling from bar to bar.
That is when State College Honorary Mayor B.A. enters our story. B.A. knew some guys in Washington, D.C. who went on a Santa Bar Tour dressed in full regalia. He suggested that Uncle Larry and some guys start that tradition.
Before anyone realized it, the idea caught fire. From five Santas in 2004, it grew to 300 Santas in 2011. Parents with children take heed; the sight of 500 Santas this year may be traumatic for young kids.
No matter the number of Santas, this year will be bigger because it is in the second year of charitable service to a bigger cause. The Santa Crawl benefits the Pat Boland Fund to help Penn State students in the College of Communications defray expenses while they are on unpaid internships. In a world of explosive tuition hikes and lower state funding for Penn State, students need help more than ever.
Pat was a stand-up guy and one of the fairest media people I was ever around. His life was cut way too short by cancer. On this night, all of us can stop and think about a man who was always willing to help Penn State students and a man who loved this town. Even while fighting cancer, he came to the Santa Crawl.
But the Santa Crawl is part of a global force, a semi-underground Santa Cult called Santarchy.com. The motto is that “No Force on Earth can stop one hundred Santas”; perhaps an International plot of world domination by people in red and white suits spreading good will and holiday cheer.
This year, Santarchy Events (Occupy North Pole?) will take place in 34 states, D.C. and in 15 countries on four continents. Exotic locales abound including the appropriately named Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. (For anyone interested, they will meet at noon on Dec. 24 at the park in front of Vincom Plaza).
Closer to home you can be a part of this amazing event of community. There are great people who have gotten on board and taken a leadership role in this. Dave Krauth at Rotelli and Pat Daugherty at the Tavern are putting out free food for Santa Crawlers. Seventeen establishments around town are honoring the wristbands with specials and events for the evening.
Wristbands can be purchased for $10 at Rotelli, Kildare’s, The G-Man, The Allen Street Grill and Café 210. For anyone wanting a head start, the wristbands will be available noon Thursday at the desk of The Hotel State College.
This promises to be a fun night to mark a joyous season and to do some good for our fellow man. In the words of the elder statesmen of the State College Santas, Larry Fall: “I think I’m more awed than proud. Who knew so many people would want to get dressed up in a silly Santa suit? What makes me particularly happy is that we are able to do some good from it, too.”
As we don our wristbands on Friday night, they will have on them a motto that Pat Boland kept on his office wall: “Love Life.” This town and this community are filled with so many special people, people who deserve an evening to celebrate all that unites us and to love life. That’s why I’ll be there.
I’ll be the Santa wearing a 409 hat.