On Saturday, hundreds of costumed Santas will drunkenly carouse their way through the boroughs as part of New York’s annual SantaCon. But Greenwood Heights resident Nick Brewer makes those clad in traditional red flannel look like Santa’s little slackers.
“I didn’t want to be just another cheap Santa suit,” the 25-year-old amateur engineer said of the months — and hundreds of dollars in lost wages — he’s spent re-programming and improving his robotic Santa costume, the Santabot.
This year’s upgrade — call it Santabot 2.0 — is iPod compatible and includes a scrolling marquee programmed to read things like “Merry Christmas” and “Error Error Must Kill All Humans.” Flashing Christmas lights, a voice changer and a candy dish that extends from the belly are all controlled by an arcade-style control panel.
“I learned a lot of things from last year, like drunks can’t really work switches that well, but they can work buttons,” Brewer explains.
Brewer, a self-described “nerd” estimates he’s spent 75 hours constructing the bot from cardboard, duct tape, air ducts, circuitry, wires and a couple of speakers, all worn over a pair of Santa suit pants. His mother, while supportive, doesn’t quite understand the project, nor do dubious co-workers whose invitations he’s refused with a simple, “I’m working on my robot tonight.”
Laura Leu, a Boerum Hill resident and five-time SantaCon attendee, doesn’t find Brewer’s commitment unusual, however.
“Any time you have a group of people participating in something, someone’s going to go way overboard,” she said. “Nick’s Santa robot plays into the typical evolution of SantaCon attendees, where every year you want to create a bigger and better costume.”
The self-described “nondenominational, non-commercial, non-political and non-sensical Santa Claus convention” started in San Francisco in 1994 when a group of pranksters decided to take to the streets dressed as St. Nick. The costumed bar crawl now takes place in 171 cities in 23 countries. All are welcome to dress up and help spread holiday cheer through naughty caroling and by handing out small gifts. Participants are known for their intoxicated rowdiness, but the rules against messing with children, cops, security and other Santas keep the proceedings in the spirit of fun.
Brewer himself won’t be enjoying many Christmas libations at this year’s Con, his fourth since moving to Brooklyn from his fittingly named hometown of North Pole, Alaska. He’ll be focused on filming the experience for a short documentary about the SantaCon phenomenon called “Santas on the Move.” He hopes to post the finished product online by Christmas Day.
Even without holiday spirits, Brewer expects to reap the fruits of his efforts.
“Last year, I was popular for the first time in my life,” he said.
(This year, he’ll be accompanied by his girlfriend, an artist who helped him with the aesthetic aspects of his costume, but he still expects the attention of some flirtatious female Santas. “The ladies seem to love robot Santa,” he said).
Dressing up is mandatory, although variations on the theme, such as elves or reindeer, are invited. Any Santa is welcome, but Brewer suggests making a bare minimum of effort in the costume department.
“Just showing up in a red sweatshirt and binge drinking is sad,” he says.
SantaCon starting points will be announced on Dec. 10 at nycsantacon.com.