How to run Santa's Grotto
Visiting Santa at the Christmas fair is an exciting
experience for children, so make it truly magical!
Santa and the elves
Once you've agreed on a date, start scouting around for a Santa
or have several Santas working in shifts. Enlist a group of
volunteers dressed as elves to manage and entertain those waiting
outside. Source a Santa outfit - can you borrow one from a local
community group or church?
Find a Santa
If you're finding it hard to get a willing volunteer to don the
red suit, try asking the local Rotary, Lions, Scouts, sports clubs
or even a local councillor and appeal to dads, granddads and
uncles. Failing that, as young children sometimes find a man in a
big beard a bit scary, how about having a 'Mrs Christmas'
Have two Santas
To avoid queues, many PTAs use a two-Santa system. If you plan
to do this, be sure to alert parents beforehand, and avoid having
them both walking around the fair at the same time!
While there's no legal requirement for Santa to be DBS checked,
it's good practice to make sure your volunteer Santa is aware of
child protection procedures and understands how you would like them
to interact with the children. Have another, DBS-checked person in
the grotto while children are present, and encourage parents and
carers to accompany their children inside. Read our DBS check FAQs for more information.
Make a grotto
Decide what form your room will take. With the right decorations
and a sprinkle of imagination, you can transform almost anywhere
into a magical grotto! Find examples from fellow PTAs on our PTA+ Pinterest board. For a DIY grotto, use
sheets of fabric to cover the walls, put up tinsel, a Christmas
tree and fairy lights, then use empty boxes wrapped to look like
presents with a large, comfy chair for Santa. If your PTA has a
bigger budget, you can hire the entire thing!
'In 2016 we made a grotto by emptying our PTA shed and draping it
in white felt and fairy lights. Last year, we found it was much
easier to hire an inflatable grotto, with the supplier giving us
20% of everything he made.'
Deborah May, PTA Chair, Warberry CofE Academy, Torquay, Devon (420
Source your gifts, taking into account your costs and potential
profit. Aim to pay around £1.50 per child, depending on how much
you charge. Gifts might include:
- Selection boxes/chocolates/sweets
- Colouring books
On average, PTAs charge around £3 to visit Santa, including a
gift. Take a look at our suppliers directory for buying gifts in
To maximise profits, find a sponsor to pay for the children's
gifts! It's an easy concept to sell to a local business - you can
be specific about how you'll spend the money (emphasising the joy
that these presents will give the children), and the exact amount
required. Recognise the sponsor's generosity by offering them a
sign saying 'This grotto is sponsored by [xxx]
Create a schedule
Draw up a timetable and let parents and children pre-book slots
to visit Santa. Think about what the visit will involve and how
long it will take: will Santa read a story, ask them what they want
for Christmas, or is it just a quick hello? Allocate enough time
for each child and ask them to arrive 10-15 minutes before their
allotted time. Will children go in individually or in groups? If in
groups, how many can you fit into your room? Once your schedule has
been drawn up, start selling slots.
'We sell tickets for half-hour slots in advance and have a maximum
number per half hour. We decorate a classroom, and each group of
children has a Christmas story with Father Christmas. They then get
a quick individual chat, a photo and a gift.' Alison Ruth Murfin,
Promote your grotto schedule as often as possible - on your
website, Facebook, noticeboard - to make sure no children miss out.
Ask for names and numbers to make sure you can contact people if
they are late on the day. Allow enough time to decorate your grotto
and have plenty of volunteers to hand.
Santa's grotto: top tips
- Give Santa the name of the child beforehand so he can make his
- Give Santa a code word or signal when the time slot is nearing
the end so he can wrap it up
- Keep a few slots open for children who haven't pre-booked their
visit to avoid disappointment
- Have enough volunteers on the day to ensure everything runs
Santa's grotto: success story
Tracey Morgan-Willcox, PTA Vice-Chair, Raysfield Infant
School (180 pupils) told us: 'A few years ago, we had a
grotto lit with just a few fairy lights, but we found some children
were scared of the dark and didn't want to come in. So last year we
went for a winter wonderland theme: everything was white, silver
and blue - it was truly magical. Our decorations were sourced
locally in pound shops. We acquired an old, wooden fire surround
and used that as our focal point. Then we bought large, white
polystyrene balls and made them look like snowballs with a large,
inflatable snowman. On the walls, we used snow scenes and covered
the doorway with a silver and white, homemade ribbon curtain.
Children were far happier to come into a bright white lit-up snow
scene than our previous grotto. We also had a 'Santa Stop Here'
sign and played Christmas music for the children who were waiting.
Each child received a quality book that was age-appropriate
(this gift went down well with parents), a selection box or sweet
tube, as well as a candy cane and sticker. We charged £3 per child.
To minimise crowds, we used a time-slot system and asked parents to
pre-book during the month leading up to the fair. We left some
slots spare for children who hadn't booked, so they wouldn't be
sad. When Santa was ready, he called children in by name, made a
fuss of them and told them a short story about himself and how busy
he was! We usually raise around £500 on the grotto, but my advice
is to go for quality and experience rather than letting profit rule
Download our printable step-by-step guide to running a
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