A VISIT to Santa's grotto is a must for most families but sometimes the much anticipated event does not always go to plan – and one Santa reveals the reason why.
As the excitement builds and the big day draws closer, one event that is a big marker in the calendar for lots of families is a visit to Santa's grotto.
Children finally get to find out if their good behaviour has paid off, or their temper tantrums have landed them on the naughty list.
It is a chance to make some memories and get those all important snaps to show to friends and family.
But as one Santa reveals the magical event isn't always so magical and it has nothing to do with the children.
Paul Brighouse from Salford has been the main Santa at Knowsley Safari for three years and says its the mums and dads who often make it onto the naughty list.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, he said: "Parents' behaviour can sometimes be bad, treating the event like they are filming a documentary, videoing and doing a running commentary.
"Social media has a lot to answer for – getting that perfect Insta pic.
"Or building the event up too much for the child.
"The first thing the parent says is 'tell him he's on the naughty list' before you have even said 'hello'."
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Paul, a self employed outdoor instructor at various activity centres across the north west, says that the children generally come in three types.
He said: "You have those who are really into Christmas and Santa, those are good fun, they really listen and you can spin a story to them.
"I generally have a different 'story' every year, this year's is about an elf up a tree and reindeer poo.
"Some are nervous and can be coaxed around. Usually they are around one to three years old, but sometimes older.
"Then there are the terrified, sometimes it's Father Christmas that scares them, but sometimes it's because they are hungry, cold, or past their bedtime.
"It can be too much for some children.
"Parents have built up this big amazing experience in their child's head. 'Don't forget to tell Santa what you want, you have to sit on his knee, you have to be good or else'.
"You can understand why some children have a meltdown as soon as they see Santa.
The last thing you want is for a terrified child to be dragged in by the parent and sat on your knee."
Having been a Santa at playgroup when his children were younger, and in grottos every year for the last six years, Paul's used to having to improvise should things go a bit pear-shaped.
"The most embarrassing time was when I was doing it for the first time when my son was around two," he said.
"I snuck out to get dressed. When the children were brought in he shouted 'that's my dad'.
"'No, no' he was told, 'daddy is in the toilet', 'Well he is wearing my dad's wedding ring then', he shouted.
"Another time in a school where my nephews and niece went, I walked into the cries of 'there's Uncle Paul'."
On another occasion Paul was being Santa at the grotto at Rock Over Climbing in Manchester, where he used to run the weekend kids' clubs.
"We did a party for all the kids and I was Santa," he said.
"I had to tell them that Santa was related to me – my great, great, great uncle. That's why he sounded like me and looked a bit like me."
More recently Paul, dad to Jared, 28 and Niamh, 22 – who has been one of his elves at two of his grottos – had to think on his feet when there was a power cut at the place he was working last year.
"We had a power cut for about 30 minutes when I had a family in," he said.
"I had to improvise a story about losing reindeer as we flew round the world, using zebra, giraffe, elephants, you name it.
"The story got more long winded with more countries involved the longer the power cut went on for."
Paul has shared some tips to help parents who are taking their children to see Santa this Christmas
1. Most Santas have been doing this a while. Most will have a routine of what they will do and say. Be guided by them.
2. Grottos can vary in the length of time you are in there. Watch when the person in front goes in and comes out as a guide.
3. If your child has never met Santa, or seems a bit hesitant – dragging them forward to Santa will end in tears. Experienced Santas will give the child time to get used to their surroundings.
4. If child has any special needs, tell the elves/Santa in advance (whilst in the queue), music can be turned off and more time can be given in seeing that child.
5. If you have brought presents for Santa to give to your child or Santa has a present for you – open it outside or at home. You might think it's cute for you to film them ripping the paper off in front of Santa, but the queue will be building up behind you.
6. It's December, it's cold and wet. If you need to get a baby out of a pram or a coat off to show off your Christmas jumper, please do it in advance. The time taken to do this is time Santa could be talking to your child. The same goes for putting them back on afterwards. Do it when you leave the room.
7. If the grotto is taking a picture for you, let them do it. It's nice to take one on your phone, but let the grotto do theirs first so it can be sent to where they print it out.
8. Things can go wrong. Computers/cameras/lights can break down. Children may scream/cry/run away. Let Santa and the elves do what they need to do. You won't be the first person this has happened to.
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9. Whether you are in there two minutes or ten, Santa and the elves want you to have a memorable time. They want your child to remember the visit.
10. Santa and the elves are (mostly) human too, be nice, it is Christmas after all.
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