2009 event this Saturday, 13 December.
Imagine, if you will, standing in London's Trafalgar Square on a cold, dry winter's evening. Speeding around the corner you see hundreds of people dressed as Santa Claus. On roller skates.
They cruise around the south side of the square, up the eastern side and come to a halt in front of the National Gallery on the north side of the square. There they rest and take refreshments -- what else but mince pies -- before returning to the streets and on to Hyde Park.
It is the Santa Skate. And it is fast becoming a top public participation event for all skaters around London. This year, according to the skate message boards, many came from around the UK and quite a few from overseas just to be part of this massive charity fundraiser.
I was on the plinth surrounding Nelson's column when I happened to see the mob coming round the corner. It was just awesome. A crowd of hundreds of people cruising along public roads on their skates, sharing space with the cars, buses and motorbikes and generating smiles and laughter even among London's notoriously impatient taxi drivers.
My first thought was a flash mob, so I jumped off the plinth and ran down to where they were passing. A steward was standing there, in his own Santa outfit, and explained it was an organised event and had taken place each year since 2004.
Never having heard of this amazing event before, I checked the web. Sure enough, it's fast becoming a cult thing. With no limit on numbers it is the biggest street skate of the year in the UK. The £10 entry fee includes the purchase of a santa suit and the proceeds go to charity. Anyone who can skate (turn, stop and control speed) can take part, with tickets (called vouchers) available at skating events, or online from the middle of September onward. On the day, you arrive and exchange the voucher for a santa suit.
Santas meet at the Victoria Pub, Strathearn Place (just north of Hyde Park) on the day of the skate. Vouchers can be exchanged for costumes between 2pm & 4pm and the big skate assembles opposite the bandstand on Serpentine Road in Hyde Park from 4:30 onwards, aiming for a 5pm start from the Wellington Arch on Hyde Park corner. The first half is an hour's easy skate from the Park to Trafalgar Square. There is no fixed route, as the skaters adapt to traffic conditions.
Then a short break and back to the Victoria pub by a different route. Altogether it is around 2 hours and 10 miles of skating. Word has it that the after party is something to experience.
Previous event dates:
2004: 19 December 2004
2005: 18 December 2005
2006: 16 December 2006
2007: 15 December 2007
The event is coordinated by the skater messageboard, www.serpentineroad.com.
The official website is a single page, but find it at www.santaskate.com