Santa to visit virtually as Christmas grottos cancelled

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.

"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.

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.