With the madness of Covid and 2020, Santa’s grotto is going online.
2020 has seen many dreams smashed into tiny pieces, but many companies throughout the UK are working hard behind the scenes to ensure that children still have the chance to believe in the magic of Christmas. This year, Santa is taking to Zoom, Facebook, and other video communication platforms to virtually meet thousands of both naughty and nice kids to collect their Christmas lists and wish them the happiest of holidays.
Careers in the arts sector have been slowly dwindling with many professional actors becoming unemployed and as a result desperate for work. Actor James Bartlett saw a gap in the market when he lost work during the pandemic, consequently setting up a site called Santascallingyou.co.uk. According to Bartlett, almost 400 aspiring Santa Clauses and elves applied for acting roles with more Santas still required. The website sells Zoom calls with Santa, Mrs Claus and elves all from the comfort of your home. The ten-minute calls start at £24.99, depending on the time of day. Bookings began to rise following the news of the second English lockdown with James Bartlett adding that: “People aren’t optimistic about the restrictions ending on 2 December, so this is a guaranteed personalised experience for your children.” Parents can adapt these online experiences to their child, by giving personal details to Santa in advance, such as pet names, favourite colours, and whether a present will be revealed during the call.
Another children’s events company, Wonder Adventures, similarly were aware of the risk of a second lockdown when planning live Christmas events. This year, the company is hosting a virtual Santa experience through Facebook, rather than at its normal physical venue. The children will have the opportunity to interact with Santa on the video chat or an elf-themed treasure hunt. Whilst these virtual experiences are cheaper, beginning at £12.99, the calls will take place via private Facebook groups and can involve other families you may not know. Having said that, Helen Nurse, the organiser of Wonder Adventures, states that: “It will be safe and personalised – you don’t have to queue, you can dress up…There’s always been a pressure on parents at Christmas but it’s even bigger this year.”
Some of the best and most famous grottos, including Harrods, and Fortnum and Mason, in London and the Thursford Christmas Spectacular in Norfolk, have announced that there are no plans for Santa to arrive on his sleigh this year. However, Chill Factore in Manchester and the toy shop The Entertainer, among others, have also arranged their take on a virtual Santa meet and greet.
Travel restrictions on foreign travel are further adding to the disappointment of Christmas celebrations, but tour operator, Santa’s Lapland, who usually organise trips to Finland, where families can meet Santa in real life and enjoy a holiday in the snow, have made plans to bring the magic home. This year, it is arranging ten-minute video calls to Lapland, where families are shown around Santa’s grotto and snowy cabin and can even be introduced to the reindeer. These prices start at a whopping £85. Chief executive Paul Carter commented: “While no Christmas can compare to the sheer excitement of travelling to Lapland…with the help of a little ‘tech’, we intend to ensure it’s still a Christmas to remember.”
Whilst in many cases Santa has followed the government guidelines to work from home wherever possible this festive season, some English venues are holding out for a Christmas miracle. LaplandUK, which usually welcomes more than 20,000 families to its interactive attractions in Ascot, Berkshire, has spent around £4.5m on making the location Covid-friendly, and currently has no virtual plans.