People dressed as Santa Claus walk on the street during SantaCon in New York.

People dressed as Santa Claus walk on the street during SantaCon in New York. Photo: Reuters

New York: Santa, it seemed, was difficult to escape in parts of the snow-coated city. He was eating a burrito at a Mexican takeout restaurant. He was getting money out of the ATM. He was buying Gatorade at a chemist.

But most of all, he was drinking at various bars throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn as part of SantaCon, an annual Santa-themed bar crawl.

SantaCon has occurred for years, but after a few particularly rowdy parties, the event has gotten the city in a tizzy. Many New Yorkers this year expressed concerns about the level of booziness at SantaCon, which draws 30,000 people to New York and has been known to feature Santas puking, shouting and urinating publicly all over town.

"It's become this massive booze fest, with people drinking as much as they can and basically running amok without any rules," said Diem Boyd, 43, a Lower East Side resident who has been putting up signs around her neighbourhood that say, "Santa Con Free Zone. Alcohol-Soaked Father Christmas Themed Flash Mob Not Welcome Here."

"People think it represents New York City, but it's not even New Yorkers participating in it," Ms Boyd said.

This year, after residents in Hell's Kitchen asked event organisers to stay away, other New Yorkers echoed that request, rebuffing the event that some see as a way for people who live in the suburbs to come to the city and ruin the weekend. New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road banned alcohol from trains for the 24 hours around the event, and one precinct in the New York Police Department reportedly asked bar owners not to serve people who were dressed in Santa costumes.

A sociologist might notice a certain tension here, between people who live in Manhattan and hate SantaCon, and those who live in New Jersey and Long Island - pejoratively called the "bridge-and-tunnel crowd" - who come into the city for the event.

As New York has become more expensive and the income gap between people living in and outside the city has grown, it's possible that bridge-and-tunnel stereotypes have gotten more pronounced, said Andrew Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College. "There's always a tension between the Manhattan people and the bridge-and-tunnel people," he said. "You see a whole bunch of people dressed up as Santa Claus who aren't your folks, but they're in your bar. You think, 'They've invading our neighbourhood to get drunk.'"

The press-shy organisers behind SantaCon sent texts to participants reminding them to stay civil. "If Santa's getting sloppy, it may be time for a break or a snack," one text read. "Santa loves milk & cookies."

The new strategies did little to deter the thousands of Santas from painting the town red.

"Last year was absurd - people were vomiting in the streets," said Liz McGovern, 21, who, like just about everyone else lined up outside a bar Saturday afternoon, was dressed in Santa gear. "This year they're trying to limit it, but I don't think it's happening. I think it's the same. How can you stop all these people?"

For some, Santa, rowdy or not, is always welcome. Barbara Beverly was heading into Manhattan from New Jersey to do Christmas shopping and saw dozens of Santas on her train. They were singing and dancing until police told them to simmer down.

"I think it's beautiful if they want to spread the holiday cheer - we need a little bit of that," she said. Then she turned to a group of women who were stumbling along, dressed in racy Santa-esque gear.

"Merry Christmas," she said. But the female Santas appeared not to hear and passed by, through the snow, on their way to the next bar.

MCT