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Claus encounters

It is possible to get through to Christmas Day without seeing much of Santa, but not if you go out of the house in December, or decide to take your children to a festive attraction, and certainly not if you venture to visit any of the following: The Santa Train Ride, Santa on the Slopes, Santa at Dobbies or The Great Edinburgh Santa Run (in which it is possible to offer your kids the challenge to "guess the real Santa" from the hundreds galloping round).

Reindeer? No, but there's plenty of snow …

I tend to think of these attractions as "Santa days", since the old fella is almost always there and generally the big, beardy star.

In the run up to Christmas last year, my two sons' tally of proper sightings – those where Santa was in close proximity and possibly handing out cheap plastic toys – was somewhere around eight or nine each. We weren't even trying hard.

I would even go as far as to say there was a certain amount of Santa avoidance going on.

One of my sons was slightly perplexed. He was four years old and struggled to understand why Santa could be seen at almost every party, in garden centres, at Christmas fairs and regularly outside a gate halfway down Leith Walk. My younger, meanwhile, fared even worse: those fluffy white beards were seen almost every where he went.

Clearly Santa had a knack of being everywhere at the same time, but then this is the man who delivers to all houses in the world in one night.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with a bit of Santa. It's just that in this Santa-saturated world it is important not to overdose. Indeed, it becomes all the more necessary to seek out the special Santa, the one whose location gives him a certain magic, or who perhaps isn't a Santa at all, but is, for instance, as at Pollok House in Glasgow, a Mrs Claus.

It may be worth targeting the odd few events that have dropped the ubiquitous Clauses all together in favour of a whole different brand of more traditional Christmasyness.

So, if you're planning on stepping out your front door with the kids this month, here are the best of the Santa-centric attractions, and a peppering of the Santa-free.

Pollok House

Mrs Claus may well have existed somewhere before she was transported to Georgian Pollok House 10 years ago as a replacement for burly old Santa, but the National Trust for Scotland property has made the old biddy its own. The property is among the best at providing that sweet sense of festive nostalgia, and the feeling that Christmas is a rather wonderful and surreal Victorian dream. Mrs Claus is played by eight volunteers, many former teachers, and one of her great virtues, for those who might be rather scared of her old man, is that she isn't a big scary bloke in a beard. Property manager Ian McGreevy describes her as the "real boss" in the Claus household. Meanwhile, upstairs, the teddy bear collection are on the rampage. This year, says McGreevy, "there are even penguins in the mix". Visits to Mrs Claus, between 11am and 4pm. until Christmas Eve, are by "timed tickets" available on the day from 10am, and cannot be booked beforehand. Each ticket costs £5 and includes a gift. For those who don't like their Christmas animated, plastic, or manufactured in China. www.nts.org.uk

Reindeer Magic

Nothing beats a visit to some real reindeer, or indeed any kind of deer, to make you feel that special Rudolph glow, and the Cairngorm reindeer herd are jingling their way to various locations across Scotland. Among them is Edinburgh's St Andrew's Square where Santa will appear on his sleigh, pulled by his faithful antlered friends next Saturday, December 8. Alternatively, you can visit the reindeer at their home in the Cairngorms. Santa Claus will also be there to welcome the children, who can dress up as reindeer or even as elves to enjoy some fun Christmas activities such as a treasure hunt and visits to the Elves House and Santa's Bothy. www.edinburghschristmas.co.uk / www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk/Xmas/xmasfun.htm

Skating On Ice

Since there are no guarantees of a white Christmas, the rinks at George Square in Glasgow and Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh are probably your best bet for an icy adrenalin shot. They are all the better too because this is where grown-ups can join in and compete to collect sporting bruises, although hopefully not cracked limbs. For the under-sevens, there are special penguin sessions at George Square, so the small ones don't have to risk colliding with a crazed teen or wobbly adult. www.glasgowloveschristmas.com and www.edinburghschristmas.co.uk

Santa Steam

The Santa express is the only way to travel to visit Father Christmas. For such a ride, there are two options: one was the Bo'ness and Kinneil railway trip, now sold out, while the other is Valley International's narrow-gauge track in the Clyde Valley. This train has been running for about 20 years and the whole experience gets getting bigger every year, with more animated, motorised scenes to entertain en route to the grotto. But the central thrill remains the same: climbing aboard that little red puffer train and steaming off to see Santa.

www.valleyinternationalpark.com

Santa on the Slopes

Real snow, real sledging and a man who looks vaguely like a real Santa. What more could you ask? The indoor snow slopes at Braehead's Snow Factor are offering a £26 package that includes meeting the big man, being photographed and enjoying a meal with him, a gift and 30 minutes of sledging on the snow. www.snowfactor.com

Big Red Bus

A favourite with my own kids, this old London Routemaster offers a tour of the Edinburgh Christmas lights. On board is an elf, hot punch, biscuits and Christmas music. Running for one day only this year, Saturday, December 8. www.theredbus.co.uk

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Families

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