Thursday, January 20News That Matters

Santa to visit virtually as Christmas grottos cancelled

Screenshots of santa video calls

Celtic Manor Resort/Wonder Adventures

Santa will be visiting children virtually this year, as grottos close and Christmas events are cancelled because of coronavirus.

Businesses have switched from planning physical meetings to arranging video calls “to the North Pole” with Mr Claus.

Socially distanced events have also been planned but those in England will have to wait until lockdown is lifted.

And in the meantime, Santa will be available online.

One children’s events company is hosting a virtual Santa experience through Facebook, rather than at its normal physical venue.

Santa will interact with people on the video chat and children can also book to complete reindeer training, a virtual sleigh-ride or an elf-themed treasure hunt.

Brett and Helen Nurse

Wonder Adventures

“We didn’t want to take the risk of planning our usual live Christmas events, in case of a second lockdown, and we were right,” said Helen Nurse, who runs Wonder Adventures with her husband, Brett (who coincidentally, looks a lot like Santa).

“It will be safe and personalised – you don’t have to queue, you can dress up, with a hot chocolate in the comfort of your own home.

“There’s always been a pressure on parents at Christmas but it’s even bigger this year.”

When actor James Bartlett lost work in the pandemic, he saw a gap in the market for unemployed Santas and set up

“Nearly 400 applied for acting roles and we are still looking for more Santas,” he said.

A training session for Santa and his staff on Zoom

The website sells Zoom calls with Santa, Mrs Claus and elves.

And it has seen an uptick in bookings since news of the second English lockdown broke.

“People aren’t optimistic about the restrictions ending on 2 December, so this is a guaranteed personalised experience for your children,” Mr Bartlett added.

Planning online sessions allows parents to give personal details to Santa in advance – such as pet names, favourite colours and whether a present will be revealed during the call.

Snowy cabin

Some of the best go-to grottos – including at Harrods and Fortnum and Mason, in London, and the Thursford Christmas Spectacular, in Norfolk – told BBC News there were no plans for Santa this year.

But Chill Factore, in Manchester, as well as toy shop The Entertainer, have arranged their own virtual offerings.

Tour operator Santa’s Lapland plans trips to Finland, where families can meet Santa in person and enjoy a holiday in the snow.

And this year, it is arranging 10-minute video calls to Lapland, where families are given a tour of Santa’s snowy cabin and introduced to the reindeer.

Sleigh ride

Santa’s Lapland

“With restrictions increasing throughout the UK, many of us have been wondering how we will keep the magic of Christmas 2020 alive,” chief executive Paul Carter said.

“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.”

Celtic Manor has launched Santa’s Tea Party at its resort in Newport, where Wales’ firebreak lockdown ends on 9 November.

Customers will be able to visit its Christmas-themed restaurant for a festive afternoon tea, complete with one-way systems, temperature checks, social distancing and hand sanitisers.

Santa will dial in for an interactive group video from the North Pole.

And elves will be there in person to entertain children and deliver a small gift to the table.

Festive fun

“Santa has decided it will be safer to follow the Welsh government’s advice and work from home wherever possible this festive season,” a Celtic Manor Resort representative said.

“While Santa won’t be here in person, he has assured all our guests that there will be nothing remotely ‘virtual’ about the festive fun he will bringing to the party.”

Meanwhile, some English venues are holding out for a Christmas miracle.

LaplandUK, which usually welcomes more than 20,000 families to its attraction in Ascot, Berkshire, and has spent £4.5m on making the location Covid-safe, has no virtual plans.

A representative said it would open whenever it could and was determined Father Christmas would not let children down this year.

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BBC News – Technology

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