Mayor of the North Pole Bob Dautrieve—described by Running of the Santas spokesman Matt Willard as “a guy in his 80s who likes to party”—first witnessed the charitable celebration’s carousing Christmas cheer while visiting its first host city, Philadelphia.
“It started there in 1998 with 40 guys and girls who came up with the idea to go bar hopping in Santa costumes,” Willard tells OffBeat. “It grew word-of-mouth among friends to the event it is today, attracting 10,000 people every year. [Dautrieve] did it, knew it would be perfect for New Orleans, so he organized it here five years ago.”
That first local Running of the Santas, held in 2011, attracted less than 1,000 revelers. Last year, more than 3,000 Santas ran through Warehouse District alleys and streets; 4,000 is the goal for this year’s run, to be held Saturday, December 12. The increasing popularity inspired the New Orleans chapter to organize the inaugural Running of the Santas in Baton Rouge on Saturday, December 5. (The event has expanded to affiliates now in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Chicago and New Zealand.) Both Louisiana events will contribute proceeds to That Others May Live Foundation, a nonprofit that “provides critical support, scholarship and immediate tragedy assistance for the families of United States Air Force Rescue Heroes who are killed or severely wounded in operational or training missions,” according to its website. “Every chapter selects a benefactor and [Dautrieve] chose this one,” Willard explains. “He has a son in the military, comes from a family with a military background, and takes it as a personal commitment to help them out.”
The 2015 Running of the Santas kicks off at 11 a.m. at the South Pole (a.k.a. the Rusty Nail, 1100 Constance St.) with a pre-party featuring holiday cocktail specials and the pop/rock spins of DJ Scott Satchfield starting at 2 p.m. The run—anywhere from a serious sprint to a sip-n-stroll—at 5:45 p.m. begins its 4-block odyssey to the North Pole (a.k.a. Generations Hall, 310 Andrew Higgins). There, the party shifts into high gear at 6 p.m. with live music from two bands that have played it since its inception: openers Category 6—a crazed, costumed Top 40s cover group—followed by groovers Flow Tribe. A panel of local celebrity judges will award, based on crowd reaction, Best Holiday Costume.
“It’s a sight to see” Willard says. “Thousands of Santas running the streets, dancing and having a great time.”
Tickets $15 general, $75 VIP (includes open bar at Generations Hall).