NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hundreds of merrymakers dressed like Santa Claus and his elves assembled in a Brooklyn park on Saturday morning to begin the annual pub crawl known as SantaCon, a Yuletide rite with a reputation for inspiring bad behavior among the revelers.
Organizers expect thousands of others eventually to join the day-long party, with more than 14,000 people signing up to participate on the SantaCon NYC Facebook page.
Terance McNamara, 25, of Hoboken, New Jersey, was one of the early birds who gathered in the New York borough's hip Williamsburg neighborhood dressed in a bright red Santa suit to start a day of bar-hopping.
"This is my first SantaCon so I wanted to see what they do in the beginning," said McNamara, who works in pharmaceutical marketing. "I'm just here to have fun and be a part of something."
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.
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, will wind 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.
The New York Police Department declined to say what extra security measures might be taken in light of the recent mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
“There will be an adequate number of officers to secure the event,” said NYPD Detective Brian Sessa, without elaborating.
Greg Jacobson, general manager at Verboten, one of the bars in Williamsburg hosting SantaCon, said he expected as many as a thousand patrons on Saturday.
"I'm not worried about the event," he said. "That's what I have security for."
Writing By Frank McGurty; Editing by Bill Rigby