Home » News » The story behind an age-old Santa experience – Santa’s Grotto

The story behind an age-old Santa experience – Santa’s Grotto

The best Santa experience doesn’t just make THIS Christmas special. It makes wonderful memories to treasure for years. But, why do we visit Santas Grotto?

Did you ever stop to think about that ageless and magical Santa experience – visiting Father Christmas in his beautifully decorated, elf-managed ‘Grotto’?

This Christmas activity has been a source of joy for both children and their parents or grandparents for generations. 

That leads me to the question, why do we visit Father Christmas in a grotto, what exactly is a grotto and what other factors should you look for in an unforgettable Santa experience?

To find out, we’ll head back in time to the very first Santa’s Grotto.  

The first-ever Santa’s Grotto

The meaning of Grotto is actually a picturesque natural cave near water. In the mists of time, it was associated with religion and magic.

However, over the years it has been used to describe the child-friendly place where Santa Claus sits to discuss Christmas gifts with children.

And the traditional Santa’s Grotto as we’ve come to know it was founded right here in the UK. Back in 1879, retail entrepreneur David Lewis created the very first Santa’s Grotto in his department store in Liverpool. 

He wanted to create an enchanting Christmas experience, as a way to thank his customers for their loyalty.

While the department store Lewis’s has since closed down, this groundbreaking grotto still exists in the city centre today at St John’s Shopping Centre.

Modern Santa Experience

Now, there are Santa’s Grottos all over the place, ranging from the fully immersive Santa experience, complete with animatronics, music and lights to the small Christmas fair grottos at the local primary school.

The link between major retailers and Santa’s Grotto continues. As the popular festive film ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ portrays, they have become the stuff of myths, and legends, including iconic Santa’s Grottos in places like Macy’s New York, which goes all out to impress.

And countries across the world go all-out to create the best, most enchanting way to meet Father Christmas as they know it’s such an important part of childhood.  

Best Santa’s Grottos UK

Closer to home, some of the biggest names in British retailing also pull out all the stops to provide wonderful opportunities to meet Father Christmas in a magical winter grotto. Including famous grottos in Hamley’s toy shop, Harrods and Selfridges. 

You can also now visit Santa in theme parks, castles, zoos, farms and museums if you want to.

Do all countries have Santa’s Grotto?

Do all countries have Santa’s Grotto

Christmas activities and traditions are so marvellously varied the world over. Here are a few examples of what it’s like to visit Santa in other countries. 

In Austria, Father Christmas doesn’t bring gifts. It is the ‘Christ Child’ or Baby Jesus who rewards good children with gifts they open on Christmas Eve. While naughty children have a visit from a terrifying creature called Krampus.

Almost as scary is the witch Belfanam who according to Italian folklore fills stockings with candy and leaves gifts if children are good.

As it’s the Christ child (Christkind) who brings gifts in Germanic folklore, this is a feature of Christmas in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Switzerland too. It is believed that’s where the term Kris Kringle comes from – a name for Father Christmas sometimes used in the US.

Did you know that the name Santa Claus is believed to have come from Sinterklaas, which is the Dutch for Saint Nicholas, the bringing of good things?

In Brazil, a child’s Santa experience is a visit from Papai Noel or Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man). While in Greece and its islands Christmas is a 14-day celebration that includes lots of boat-based traditions, as well as a visit from Ayios Vassileios who wears a red cape and has a white beard.

The best Santa’s Grotto near me

Modern Santa Experience

What if you’re looking for a truly wonderful Santa experience, within easy travelling distance of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire?

It has to be The Winter Glow festival at Three Counties Showground, Malvern!

This is an excellent way for children to meet Father Christmas, but also provides many other memory-making activities too. Including being a personalised Santa encounter, and offering you a Christmas illuminations trail, indoor Christmas Market, fairground and ice skating opportunity.

Do you know what that means? Even if someone in your family is ‘over’ the whole Santa’s Grotto ‘thing’, there are still plenty of ways to have fun, take photos and make memories at Winter Glow.