Angela Palladino, 28, and Kami Dimitrova, 26, paid a visit to Santa on Tuesday. Sitting together on Santa’s lap, they talked about the good deeds they have done this year, promised to be nice to their mothers and had their photos taken. They even received a candy as a reward.
The young women are obviously a little old to be sitting on Santa’s lap, but this was no traditional Santa. This Santa was wearing red leather boots, an elegant red winter coat, a stylish white, short-haired wig and sunglasses. This Santa also had a different title: Ms. Claus. And the venue was untraditional as well: the public space on the fifth floor of Trump Tower.
The woman in the Santa costume was Lizz Winstead, the founder of Lady Parts Justice League, an organization that uses comedy to raise awareness of reproductive rights issues. Their Giving Tuesday event, titled “Santa is a Creep: The Ms. Claus Takeover at Trump Tower,” aimed to raise money for charitable causes. Attendees were encouraged to donate to Lady Parts Justice League or any other nonprofit organization.
The event also aimed to push back against the Christmas tradition of old white men dressing up as Santa Claus and, in light of the cascade of sexual harassment revelations in the news, the potential creepiness of sitting on a stranger’s lap. “If every good guy has done something shitty, is Santa next?” Winstead said. “This is the year to be talking to women, this is the year of be sitting on a woman’s lap and telling her what your problems are.”
It wasn’t exactly Santa’s workshop, though the event featured an inflated Christmas tree. It also featured carols rewritten from a feminist perspective. One was sung to the tune of “Let It Snow:” “Oh, some men in this world are frightful, and they love to call us spiteful. Kick the patriarchy out of town. Burn it down, burn it down, burn it down!”
Molly Gaebe, 32, a writer at Lady Parts Justice League for the last two years, was dressed in an elf costume and introduced herself as a feminist elf. She said that the group uses comedy to share their messages.
“We have fun with it, we make a performance out of it,” Gaebe said. “So, people pay attention and donate and just have the discussion.”
Palladino, a comedian and advocate for women’s health issues, said she started following and contributing to Lady Parts Justice League after last year’s presidential election.
“I felt like I could have done more,” Palladino said. “I just wanted to get involved in any way that I could.”
Dimitrova, also a comedian, said that this kind of event was trying to shed light on issues related to women’s rights that aren’t always easy to discuss. “The best way to do that is usually through comedy,” said Dimitrova. “What they are doing here is great because you can laugh about something that sometimes is hard to laugh at.”
Claire Daly, a 59-year-old musician, who became a supporter of Lady Parts Justice League last year, said she believes in the importance of women empowering each other.
Daly’s working on a February fundraiser featuring comedy and jazz and hosted by Winstead, who she said is one of the smartest and funniest people she has ever met.
“I think this is a very cute idea,” Daly said. “She is always working for her causes and she is always moving it forward and trying to create events that are fun but that have a message and do some good.”
Winstead said she enjoyed portraying Ms. Claus.
“Well, I’m dressed like a crazy person,” she said. “It was actually really rewarding to have people sit down on my lap and tell me about the good work they did this year. People who I don’t know and some people that I do know.”
The public park at Trump Tower seemed an appropriate venue “to bring together the conversation,” said Gaebe. About 45 people attended in person with another 100 or so joining during a 10-minute Facebook Live segment. Passersby seemed to appreciate the extra holiday spirit.
Ken Levey, a 24 year-old freelance artist, said he was meeting a high school friend at Trump Tower and just happened to come across the gathering.
“I think that unfortunately is not very well attended,” Levey said. “But I’m happy to be here and it’s more important than ever. I mean it’s great that they can do this kind of in the belly of the beast right here in this public park.”
Grace Bone, 49, who was visiting New York from St. Louis, said she was looking for a quiet place to drink her coffee when she discovered the event.
“I just thought it was a funny thing,” Bone said. “A comedy thing that they were doing but they are serious. I think it’s a good cause. I don’t have a problem with that. They looked like they are having fun. Only in New York!”