Santa’s Grotto and Christmas Markets move online due to new UK COVID-19 restrictions.

Many popular festive events are unable to take place this year, under new COVID-19 restrictions.

Nevertheless, thanks to the wonders of the internet, the festive magic lives on. Small retailers are adjusting to the second UK national lockdown by bringing business online.

Santa Claus is Coming to Zoom

Just like the rest of us, Santa Claus is having to follow social distancing guidelines and may struggle to meet every child in person this year. In lieu, traditional Santa’s grottos have thus been replaced with virtual alternatives.

Santa’s Grotto Live

Santa’s Grotto Live is one such organisation which arranges one-on-one Zoom calls with Father Christmas.

The business founder, Freddie Overton, says that his niece inspired him to find a way to let children connect with Santa. “Epecially in what has been quite a difficult year for everyone,” he says. I think it kind of reminds children of that stability and the hope that Christmas is around the corner.”

Meeting Santa “reminds children of that stability and the hope that Christmas is around the corner.”

Freddie – Santa’s grotto online

Santa will play games, tell stories and talk to children about their Christmas list during the call.

Freddie believes that the popularity of virtual grottos may even outlive the need for social distancing. “In a traditional grotto you would spend 2 or 3 minutes with Santa,” he explains. “We’re hoping that by moving [children] into their more comfortable environment, […] they may be more willing and more able to open up and talk with Santa.”

Aaron Spendelow, the Santa actor working at Santa’s Grotto Live, agrees that this initiative could survive post-COVID. “For accessibility… For children that have other needs and extra needs, whether that is mental or physical, I think that [virtual grottos] are a perfect thing.”

To Lapland And Beyond…

Andy and Jay have set up a similar initiative, Online Virtual Santa, which provides children’s Christmas parties and online meetings with Santa.

Jay runs a regular party planning business (Party Peeps) throughout most of the year. Although the business is based in Bristol, he says that the move to online business has opened the doors to a much wider market. “I am no longer a local business, or even a national business, but an international business. Other than the UK, we do so many parties in India and America.”

“I am no longer a local business, or even a national business, but an international business.”

Jay – Online Virtual Santa

Andy hopes to return to in-person meetings soon, but it seems that internet-based business could outlast the need for social distancing.

Christmas Markets Online

While children might count down the days until they can meet Santa Claus, for many of us, Christmas markets are the highlight of the festive season. Birmingham’s German Christmas Market, which attracts over 5 million visitors to the city every year, has closed for the first time in nearly 20 years. Several other famous markets have also had to close, while others have been indefinitely postponed.

Christmas is usually the busiest time of year for many small businesses and retailers. UK shoppers spend an average of £50 billion during the festive season.

However, since the government put in place a nationwide lockdown throughout November, this figure is predicted to fall by 80%.

Birmingham Christmas Market, Victoria Square

Ieva Simons owns a small woodwork business in Derbyshire (Woodsquare), and usually sets up stools in several local Christmas markets. In 2020, her plans have dramatically changed; she is instead taking part in six different online fairs, based throughout the UK.

Various websites and Facebook groups have networked with independent businesses to provide creators a platform on which to share their products. For retailers accustomed to face-to-face customer service, Ieva says that online commerce has been a difficult adjustment.

“It’s been challenging in a way that businesses are not used to,” Ieva says of online retail. “When you lose the physical interaction with the customer, you need to somehow be able to recreate that feeling.”

A product from the Woodsqure website

Despite the downfalls of losing the intimate nature of a market stool, Ieva also admits that online “you attract more people, and more types of people, to your shop.”

She also believes that online commerce will last well into the future, even when Christmas markets will be allowed to take place.

“The industry is changing, and I will change along with it.”

Ieva – Woodsquare LTD.

It is still unclear whether COVID restrictions will impact people’s personal plans this Christmas. The UK government has warned that celebrations this year will be very different. However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also says he hopes people will be able to meet in person.

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