NEW YORK, N.Y. - When red-suited revelers throng the city's streets and taverns under the banner of SantaCon, some see an outpouring of holiday spirit, not to mention spirits. But to others, it's the blight before Christmas.

After complaints about boorish, bar-hopping St. Nicks got attention from local officials and police, the event's ringleaders are trying to quell the SantaCon-troversy ahead of this year's gathering Saturday.

They're pledging to advise police of their usually guarded plans, have volunteers help control the roving crowd of Kringles and send the message that SantaCon is a meant to be a "festive culture jam," not a bad-Santa bender.

"This year," the event's website vows, "we are cleaning up Santa's act."

It's a coming-of-age moment for SantaCon, which traces its origin to a consumer-culture-tweaking "Santarchy" in San Francisco in 1994 and now spans events in more than 300 cities worldwide. Fueled by the wildfire word-spreading of social media, the New York celebration has become one of the biggest, mushrooming in roughly a decade from a few hundred bearded boozers to tens of thousands, by some estimates.

As numbers have swelled, the event's image has morphed from whimsical flash mob to flashpoint, even for New Yorkers used to such freewheeling shindigs as the giant Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. SantaCon's organizers are as tough to pin down as the elf himself — one responded to an inquiry from The Associated Press but refused to be quoted by name — but the site acknowledges the event "has had growing pains."

Enthusiasts say the daylong event starts at 10 a.m. and aims to put a cheeky, modern spin on holiday traditions — "don we now our gay apparel," anyone? — while generating money for both bars and charities. Participants are instructed to make $10 charitable donations and encouraged to bring small gifts to bestow on one another and passers-by.

"For me, SantaCon is about just dressing up and having fun, laughing till it hurts and enjoying being part of a massive celebration. ... It isn't about drinking or getting wasted," says Brandon Ferreira-Hanyo, 27, of East Quogue, N.Y. He's looking forward to attending for a third consecutive year.

"It's gotten so huge you have to take the good with the bad," he says, but he feels the complaints about drunken rowdiness are overblown.

Bar owners are split. To Dan Warren, the managing owner of Common Ground, a hangout in Manhattan's East Village, "it's festive and fun" and a boost to daytime business. But SantaCon-goers are frozen out of Hotel Chantelle, a cocktail lounge in Manhattan's Lower East Side, after a sloshed Claus harassed women brunching there two years ago, managing partner Tim Spuches said.

To some onlookers, SantaCon is about as jolly as explaining to a kindergartener why Santa just tossed his milk and cookies.

"Take your body fluids and public intoxication elsewhere," read "SantaCon free zone" signs that appeared this week on the bar-laden Lower East Side, where some residents already weary of living with nightlife see SantaCon as a final straw.

"Now we have a whole day of vomiting and vandalism and people acting without any decorum or respect for other people," says Diem Boyd, a leader of LES Dwellers, the group that made the signs. "I think anything quaint about it is gone by now."

So do some police and politicians.

The New York Police Department logged a sole, disorderly-conduct arrest at SantaCon last year, along with 73 open-container tickets and a summons for public urination. That was enough for at least one police lieutenant, who suggested to midtown Manhattan bars that the event hurt the neighbourhood more than it helped the establishments.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly then made clear the department supports SantaCon, calling it generally peaceful and an example of "what makes New York New York."

But some city and state officeholders also were pressing the organizers to thwart misbehaviour, and threatening to ask police and bars to do so if SantaCon wouldn't. Meanwhile, some of the area's commuter railroads are banning alcoholic drinks on their trains during the celebration, as they do during some other events.

And so, organizers say, a more orderly SantaCon is coming to town.

They agreed to let police and community leaders know their planned route, which participants learn only in real time by text and tweet. Volunteer Santa's helpers will help work to keep sidewalks — and participants' conduct — passable, according to the event website and to state Sen. Brad Hoylman, who spearheaded a recent phone conference between officials and SantaCon leaders.

Hoylman says he appreciates the effort but wonders how much sway volunteers can exercise over an event that prizes spontaneity.

Leading up to it, SantaCon's wranglers are trying to instil a sense of responsibility, if in an in-your-bearded-face way.

"Santa spreads JOY. Not terror. Not vomit. Not trash," the site says. "Would you want those under YOUR tree?"

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.

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  • FILE - This Dec. 11, 2010 file photo shows John Paul, center, of Manhattan, dressed as an Elf and Michael Smallwood, of Brooklyn, dressed as Santa riding the E train downtown in New York. Paul and Smallwood were participating in SantaCon a annual pub crawl where participants dress up in Santa and other Christmas theme outfits. SantaCon is coming to town _ in fact, to nearly 300 towns and cities around the world. Dozens, sometimes hundreds of red-suited revelers gather, bar hop, stop traffic and pose for photos. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, file)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus drink at a bar during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus and Rudolph the Reindeer gather at the South Street Seaport during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: A reveler dressed as an elf takes a photograph during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus are seen at the South Street Seaport during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus gather at the South Street Seaport during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus file into a bar during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus gather near Battery Park during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus sing near Battery Park during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus gather at the South Street Seaport during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus play jump rope during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus drink at a bar during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus drink outside at a bar during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus drink outside at a bar during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus gather near Battery Park during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus gather at the South Street Seaport during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • Annual SantaCon Held In New York City

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus drink outside at a bar during the annual SantaCon event December 10, 2011 in New York City. SantaCon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

  • John Paul, center, on Manhattan, dressed as an Elf and Michael Smallwood, of Brooklyn, dressed as Santa ride the E train downtown, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010 in New York. Paul and Smallwood were participating in SantaCon a annual pub crawl where participants dress up in Santa and other Christmas theme outfits. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: June Shieh hula hoops while other New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Revelers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Holiday Revelers Hit New York City Streets Dressed As Santas

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: A reveler dressed as Santa Claus takes a nap during the annual Santacon event December 11, 2010 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa Claus who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus gather outside a bar during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus gather in Washington Square Park during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus dance in Washington Square Park during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus gather in Washington Square Park during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus dance in Washington Square Park during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus dance in Penn Station during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus wait to purchase MetroCards to ride the subway during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus ride the subway during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus gather inside a bar during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus gather in Washington Square Park during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus celebrate during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus gather outside a bar during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • New Yorkers Dress Up As Santa For "SantaCon" Gathering

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: New Yorkers dressed as Santa Claus walk past the Empire State Building during the annual Santacon event December 12, 2009 in New York City. Santacon is a mass gathering of revelers dressed as Santa who take to the streets in cities across the country before Christmas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Santas Take To The Streets Of New York City

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: A baby looks on in a Santa outfit while participating in the 2004 Santacon December 11, 2004 in New York City. The annual event occurs worldwide with hundreds of Santas in New York wandering through the city's bars, subways and tourist sites while generally wreaking havoc and speading holiday cheer. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Santas Take To The Streets Of New York City

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: A man walks past as Santa Claus' kiss while participating in the 2004 Santacon December 11, 2004 in New York City. The annual event occurs worldwide with hundreds of Santas in New York wandering through the city's bars, subways and tourist sites while generally wreaking havoc and speading holiday cheer. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Santas Take To The Streets Of New York City

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: Hundreds of Santa Claus' pack a bar in midtown while participating in the 2004 Santacon December 11, 2004 in New York City. The annual event occurs worldwide with hundreds of Santas in New York wandering through the city's bars, subways and tourist sites while generally wreaking havoc and speading holiday cheer. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

  • Santas Take To The Streets Of New York City

    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: Santa Claus' wait to ride in the subway in the 2004 Santacon December 11, 2004 in New York City. The annual event occurs worldwide with hundreds of Santas in New York wandering through the city's bars, subways and tourist sites while generally wreaking havoc and speading holiday cheer. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)