Ho ho … hum: Santa to take video calls as lockdown keeps grottos closed
Christmas hasn’t been cancelled yet but meeting Santa and his little helpers is going to look different for a lot of people this year, with video calls that take children to the north pole replacing many visits to local grottos.
Socially distanced events are still planned in some event spaces in England, although they will only be able to take place once the national lockdown has lifted, as businesses pivot to deal with coronavirus restrictions.
One company that has set up a virtual experience is Santascallingyou.co.uk, founded by James Bartlett. He decided to create a new event partly inspired by his children. “This is the first year we are doing online grottos,” he said. “In the middle of summer, I thought: are kids going to see Santa this year without socially distancing or wearing a mask? Then the idea came to me.”
He said the new approach meant they could get details about the children before the calls, which will last eight to nine minutes, or longer if parents want a story to be read. He said interest had “gone through the roof” and they had had bookings from the UK but also abroad, including from Hong Kong and Australia.
“My background is an actor, that is what I do, so luckily I have been able to bring opportunities to other actors who have not had a great year due to theatres closing down,” he said, adding that they had now recruited a cast of 45 including Mrs Claus and elves.
Helen Nurse, the founder of Wonder Adventures, said their events were usually live but they soon realised that would need to change this year. “At Easter we cancelled our event and took the event online … to see if it worked, and it did, so we did ‘themed stuff’ throughout the summer to refine it and in the summer we considered Christmas and we made the call that we were not going to take the risk to book live venues … so we planned for doing it all virtually.
“We have had a lot of interest in it because we started planning for it early … Our experiences are more than just a virtual grotto on Zoom. We have a virtual sleigh ride and story videos and it is really interactive. We have a treasure hunt event with Santa,” she said.
Nurse said a lot of businesses were waiting to see what would happen, but many had cancelled events after the second lockdown.
The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) said a survey of its members echoed this. However, others including the Royal Albert Hall in London, are still planning to go ahead with their experience, although it will be socially distanced.
Bernard Donoghue, the director of the ALVA, said nearly all of its members across the UK had either cancelled Christmas events or “changed them dramatically” to adhere to new rules. He said scaling back or cancelling them would be another “hardship” in a difficult year.
Mike Battle, the founder of LaplandUK, a Christmas-themed park, said they could have cancelled their event but thought instead: “Father Christmas stands for children and I don’t believe he would let them down, so nor can we.”
Its event has doubled in size and a a range of measures have been put in place to make it safe. “People won’t be allowed to enter the site without notification on their app … They will go through a process of waiting in the car before another notification on the app which tells them when they can go in.”
He said staff would be tested and the audience would move around the show space in “performance bubbles”. It was due to open on 13 November but this has been postponed due to lockdown.
London Zoo announced that it would no longer be running its Meet Santa events, refunding all the tickets. It said that when it knew more about reopening, it would look again at what it could do. Kew Gardens will still be running a Christmas lights event, although it has been postponed until 4 December.