The spirit of Christmas permeated downtown State College Saturday evening, as the annual State College Santa Crawl kicked off its 13th year. Hundreds of Santas flooded the streets and participating bars thoughout the area. It all began with a pre-crawl happy hour at the 8 p.m. starting points, Primanti Bros. and Cafe 210 West. The costumed revelers arrived hours before, meeting with friends and gearing up for a long night of celebrating this town tradition.
The State College Santa Crawl, founded by Larry Fall, originated in 2004. What started with five friends has expanded to an event attracting more than 1,000. As the numbers have increased, the logistics have changed, but the spirit is still the same.
“It kind of started as a joke. Back in the early aughts, there were a couple of years where I would dress up as Santa Claus, buy a bunch of stuffed animals at the dollar store then go around to several of the bars I used to frequent and start passing out teddy bears as gifts to all the gals I’d run into. A friend of mine, Brian Allen, former Penn State basketball player, saw me doing this and mentioned that he knew a bunch of guys back in his hometown of D.C. who used to dress up as Santa, rent a bus and have a bar tour. Between the two of us, we decided to do something similar here,” said Fall.
While the crawl originally required participants to move from one bar to the next as a group, the large crowds now require a different method. After the 8 p.m. kickoff, participants scattered to the 15 featured venues in whatever order they chose. This year’s hosts included Primanti Bros., Cafe 210 West, Lion’s Den, The Brewery, Adam’s Apple, The Shandygaff, Mad Mex, The Rathskeller, Darkhorse Tavern, The Phyrst, Local Whiskey, Bill Pickle’s Tap Room, Zeno’s Pub, the Allen Street Grill and Indigo.
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Participation is affordable each year, with $20 for a wristband, which waives cover charges at all venues. All proceeds from the event were donated to the Pat Boland Memorial Internship Fund at the Penn State College of Communications. Boland, who died in 2011, was a local radio broadcaster. The fund was established in his honor to help assist students in the communications field. Over the past five years, the State College Santa Crawl has donated more than $30,000 to the fund.
“It was actually, Keith ‘Goon’ Conlin, a former PSU football player and longtime crawl participant, who suggested that the Boland Fund might be a logical choice,” said Fall. “That made a whole lot of sense. Pat was a local guy, was friends with many people on the crawl and would have loved the idea of a bit of craziness supporting his fund.”
Newcomers may be surprised to learn that, while Penn State students are certainly welcome to attend, this event is not a student-oriented bar tour. Most of the participants are professionals from the community, an aspect many found appealing.
“It’s fun to see other adults our age out on the town, because usually this is a student-dominated area,” said one attendee, Eric, who preferred not to give a last name. It was his third year on the Santa Crawl.
Another participant in her third year, Kathy Derr, also alluded to the varied turnout, as well as the event’s fantastic charity component. “First of all, you are promoting this wonderful cause through the …communications college here, so that’s the foremost thing, but the other thing is, you know, it’s a weekend before the holidays, you get to dress up and be a kid again, do a lot of people-watching. It’s funny too to see that change over from the older crowd to the younger crowd. It’s just a lot of great energy.”
For the second year, the Santa Crawl partnered up with the Run Rudolph Run 5K Run/Walk, which began Saturday at 9 a.m. at the State College Municipal Building. Funds raised were split and donated to the Centre County Youth Services Borough Christmas Crusade, as well as the Pat Boland Memorial Internship Fund. Participants joining both events received a discounted rate, and costumes were encouraged at the 5K as well.