20 Dec 2017


From Eyewitness, 3:30 pm on 20 December 2017

Christmas, 2005 and a hundred drunk men dressed in Santa suits allegedly start a riot in downtown Auckland. News around the world have great fun with stories of bad behaviour by crazy Kiwis. But was it true? Yes. Yes it was. Mostly.

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Photo: Supplied.

Christmas; peace on earth and good will to all men.

Except for anyone unlucky enough to make the news during what we rightly call the Silly Season. If that happens, then good luck to you, ‘cos you’re on your own.

And that need for news is why in 2005 media outlets around the world gleefully reported the antics of a 100 drunken Santas, out on the lash and supposedly rioting up and down Auckland’s Queen Street. Breathlessly, we (yes, RNZ too) broadcast details of drunkenness, theft, public urination, assaults, arrests and red-faced reindeer.

The story went around the world faster than a fat man on a sleigh.

This apparent collapse of civilisation as we know it was called Santarchy (a play on Santa and anarchy), a worldwide movement protesting the commercialisation of Christmas - and a good excuse to get slaughtered while wearing a Santa suit.

Alex Dyer and his mates set up the local chapter of Santarchy in 1999, but he doesn’t buy into the idea of it as a protest.

“I love Christmas. I’m the only person who’s ever been happy when his parents split up because it meant I got two sets of presents.”

Alex calls the first Auckland Santarchy a “weak effort”; just two or three blokes in Santa suits drinking cider in a park. But the following year was bigger and Santarchy continued to grow and get more visible.

There were about 75 Santas at the 2004 event and some had overdone the sherry. As they hit town, it all got a bit gross. There were two arrests for fighting and disorderly behaviour and one Santa lost his (liquid) lunch right in front of a small child. Merry Christmas to you.

But Alex Dyer argues that Santarchy 2004 went off “basically without a hitch.”

“And I thought if you can get that big, you can go as big as you want and have no dramas.

“But the following year proved me wrong…”

A Santa drinks from a beer funnel held by another Santa.

Santa gets 'em in. Photo: Supplied.

Santarchy 2005 began at Victoria Park in downtown Auckland, just one week before Christmas and there were early signs that this one was going to be different.

“People just kept turning up. There were a minimum of a hundred Santas and one bloke dressed as a reindeer…”

“We just welcomed them all in.”

A sackful of Santas headed up Victoria Street, beers in hand, giving out small presents to passers-by as they went. Kids and adults laughed and joined in the fun. The Santas took photos of themselves under the Christmas tree at Sky City Casino and then worshipped at the feet of the giant Farmers Santa on Queen Street.

And they visited a few bars, too. As the afternoon wore on and a hundred Santas got hammered, Alex lost any control over the group that he might have ever had.

“When everyone is dressed the same, it’s mayhem. You don’t even know who your friends are. Drinking on the street, cheering…at one point a bus door opened and hundred Santas ran through the bus, in the front entrance and out the back, all ho, ho, ho-ing. It looked amazing.

“I said ‘this is its own beast now’.”

After being barred from a strip club, the Santas, by now all fully rinsed, headed to Auckland’s Viaduct area and things started to get less than jolly. What happened next is arguable and Alex good naturedly complains that the “pesky media” got it all wrong. So let’s test that claim out. First up – did Santas steal beer from a dairy?

“I cannot confirm or deny any theft. A hundred Santas went into a shop; a hundred came out with beers. I know that some were definitely paid for.”

Were Santas openly urinating in the streets?

“I wouldn’t say openly urinating…”

A side on view of the Santa starting his climb up the mooring rope.

Beginning to shimmy up the mooring rope. Photo: Supplied.

Finally; did a Santa try to illegally board a boat moored in the harbour?

“Absolutely. He shimmied his way up and he got right to the top. The bloke who was running the boat was like ‘you just can’t come on' so he has to slide his way down and got quite bad burns. Waiting at the bottom was a security guard who was very angry.

"(The Santa) got charged with basically what a pirate would be charged with; boarding a vessel illegally.”

The video on this webpage gives you a pretty clear idea of the hijinks.

What happened after the attempted boat boarding is all there, including the confrontation with the security guards which quickly began to resemble the riot some people say took place. It’s a bit of a free for all, with the Santas attempting to protect and free their friend and the security guards giving as good - or even better -  than they got. To be fair, some of the Santas are trying to calm things down. Also to be fair, some are not. Some of them are just trying to get away.

Halfway up the mooring rope, a Santa is refused entry to the ship by a uniformed guard.

Santa denied. Photo: Supplied.

“Some jumped into the sea; some went off in all directions" says Alex.

"The reindeer did a very impressive rugby-style run through three or four police." 

"He may have been the thief…he certainly wanted to get away.”

He didn’t, though. Police arrived and three Santas were arrested. As for the rest, Alex says the police had a simple message for them.

“They said ‘look, you’re fully grown men. Just go home’.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Radio and TV here in New Zealand got in first, followed by our newspapers, then reports began appearing everywhere. Even the BBC ran with it . American TV, too.

“I was pretty impressed when David Letterman spoke about it on his show. I though this is great!”

Alex had so many calls from journalists he turned off his phone for a few days. It was clear to him that Santarchy in the AK was dead.

“It was the nail in the coffin; a fun, exhilarating nail.”

There’s no doubt Santarchy 2005 was as much a boorish, blokey boozefest as it was simply drunken, good-natured silliness that got well out of hand. Alec calls it “a bit of bally-hoo”.

There’s also no doubt we in the media had way too much fun with it and clearly, some of us still are. Whether you find it a laugh or not is up to you. But be warned; while Santarchy here is over and done with, Alex has plans for other festive spinoffs. He tested out a Christianarchy event last Easter; still in costumes, and still with no intention other than to have fun.

“There’s no anarchy involved. It’s just drunk men dressed up in different outfits.”

 Members of Santarchy pose for a photo, Auckland 2005

Members of Santarchy pose for a photo, Auckland 2005 Photo: Supplied.