Running of the Santa balloons to 2,000 elves _lowres

Photo provided -- A merry gathering of Santas prepares to make the annual dash in 2013.

If you have to drive down Tchoupitoulas Street on Saturday evening, plan a different route or pull over and put on a Santa hat. Almost 2,000 Santas will be taking a fun run from Barcadia to Generation Hall at 6 p.m.

Started in Philadelphia in 1995, the Running of the Santas will enjoy its fourth year on the streets of New Orleans. The holiday event has spread to 24 cities in more than three countries since organizers first affixed a white beard to their faces and a pair of sneakers to their feet.

Bob Dautrieve, “Mayor of the North Pole,” brought the event to New Orleans after visiting friends in Philadelphia and seeing the event. It seemed a perfect fit for New Orleans.

“I saw this was a natural for New Orleans because I like to think it contains the New Orleans holy trinity: music, booze and costumes,” Dautrieve said. “With those three items, anytime you put them together you have a New Orleans party.”

Registration begins at 9 a.m. and the event starts at 3 p.m. at “the South Pole,” also known as Barcadia, where you can catch Santas, elves, reindeer, snowmen and Mrs. Clauses all milling about, preparing for the seven-block run. Food and drink are there, and the night ends at Generations Hall, where there will be “Cutest Santa” and “Best Holiday Costume” contests. Category 6 and Big Sam’s Funky Nation will play on the stage.

Organizers really want participants to test their creative boundaries with their costumes. The “Best Holiday Costume” contest will be judged by a group of celebrities from the media.

“Besides seeing a great number of Santa Clauses,” Dautrieve said, “people dress as Mrs. Claus, reindeers, elves, Christmas trees, Christmas presents. We even had one costume last year with a takeoff from Saturday Night Live’s ‘Junk in the Box,’ ” he said with a laugh. “They get creative.”

It’s a fun event for all. So good that local Shaun Walker has never missed a year.

“I’ve gone every year it’s been in New Orleans,” Walker said. “It’s a great party with a lot of friendly people and great music and drinks. It’s a real celebratory atmosphere where all the good feelings that people have during the holidays turn to party form.”

The run raises money for the That Others May Live Foundation, a nonprofit formed in 2002 that provides scholarships, counseling and aid to surviving children of Air Force rescue heroes who never made it home. The hope is to provide opportunity for all the children who lost a parent through Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. To Dautrieve, the charity is a personal choice.

“Over the years I’ve become very close to the people in (That Others May Live Foundation),” Dautrieve said. “It means a lot to me. I have family in the Air Force, and I hope they never have to raise money for my family.”

Whether you’re there for the party, to support charity or both, the event is a good way to unwind during a stressful December, he said.

“It’s just a great time,” Walker said. “You’re already in a good mood because of the holidays, but it just makes it even more fun. It’s almost a time when you de-stress because you’re worried about getting people presents and everything is so hectic during the holidays, and it’s a chance to unwind and have a little fun before Christmas.”