Two chemical plant operators, a retired AT&T supervisor and a lawyer walk into a bar. It’s 11 a.m. and they’re all dressed like Santa Claus.
It’s not the beginning of a bad joke — that was how Baton Rouge residents Keith and Sarrah Knappf, Tim Thriffley and Valissa Rosemond found themselves as the first arrivals to Saturday’s inaugural “Running of the Santas” fun run downtown.
Stretching just a few blocks between Third Street bars The Draft House and The Roux House, and with plenty of participants opting to walk, and occasionally stumble, the run emphasized the “fun” part of “fun run.”
Keith Knappf said he and his friends are avid participants in New Orleans’ Red Dress Runs, so attending the “Running of the Santas” was a no-brainer. Knappf did, however, note that he planned on leaving the actual running to some of the later arrivals.
After gathering at The Draft House for drinks and dancing, the revelers split into groups of runners and walkers. Bob Dauterive, the event’s organizer and honorary “mayor of the North Pole,” led the runners in a countdown via megaphone before the participants set off down Third and Lafayette streets.
“All I can say is they obviously didn’t drink enough if they went that way,” one Santa-garbed walker on Third Street remarked, pointing to the runners who were headed down Lafayette Street.
At “the South Pole,” as The Roux House was temporarily renamed, an outdoor tent party featuring New Orleans funk-rock band Flow Tribe and a costume contest awaited thirsty runners. Clay LeBrun, of Baton Rouge, won the overall award for best costume, for his design reimagining Santa Claus as a pirate, complete with a candy-cane hook for a hand.
There were plenty of Santas participating but also others dressed as reindeers, Mrs. Claus and, of course, elves.
But the race wasn’t just an excuse to, in Sarrah Knappf’s words, “get dressed up to get messed up.” A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to benefit That Others May Live Foundation, a nonprofit that provides support to the children and families of Air Force veterans killed in action.
Chester Welch, a Baton Rouge resident, said he thought the run also could benefit Baton Rouge’s downtown district. He saw the expansion of the run, which is held in 20 cities internationally, to Baton Rouge as part of a trend.
“Downtown’s looking much better these days,” Welch said.
Though a similar run has been held in New Orleans for the last five years, this was the run’s first year in Baton Rouge. First held in Philadelphia in 1998, the “Running of the Santas” started when 40 friends decided on a whim to dress up as Santa Claus for a pub crawl.
Welch said the Baton Rouge connection was established when some of the original Santas from Philadelphia met Dauterive while marching together in a Mardi Gras parade. Dauterive is a member of Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Walking Club, a New Orleans krewe infamous for being little more than an excuse for its members to take an inebriated walk through downtown parade routes, Welch said.
While Baton Rouge’s first “Running of the Santas” event proved a success, Saturday’s unseasonably warm weather had some of those in heavy velour Santa suits wishing for temperatures a little more like those found at the real North Pole.
“We in south Louisiana would like to know how the hell Santa can stand dressing like this,” Keith Knappf said.