As the quiet dawn is broken today by the sound of excited children tearing open the first door on their Advent calendars, the chance of their festive season also including a meeting with Santa hangs in the balance

Why is that?

A visit to Santa’s grotto to perch on his knee, hear a hearty Ho-ho-ho! from the man himself and then depart clutching an early Christmas present is an annual ritual for most young children and their indulgent parents. However in this most unusual of years, the combination of sweaty children in close proximity to even sweatier Santas has put the tradition in doubt, especially with many grottoes often being set up in low-ceilinged shop basements, Scout huts, community halls or retail centres.

Another victim of Lockdown Two?

Kyllä ja ei, as they say in Lapland – or yes and no as they say in Poundland, which a cynic might suggest is where most of the grotto presents are sourced. Yes, because if non-essential retail outlets are closed and community halls and Scout huts with them, then it’s for reasons which also mitigate against Santa safely setting up a grotto, dispensing presents and posing for selfies (or even elfies). No, because, well, it’s Christmas and everybody needs a little cheer to brighten the gloom.

You mean there is a Santa clause?

After a fashion. Speaking on Monday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the question in her daily briefing. “We are working on guidance on Santa’s grotto,” she said. She has noted in the past that Santa is a key worker meaning he is presumably allowed a greater degree of latitude than might otherwise be the case. Meanwhile guidance published by the UK government and pertaining to England says grottoes can operate as long as measures such as social distancing are in place. So no clambering onto Santa’s knee to whisper ‘I’d like a PS5 please’ in his ear. Also, the grotto can only be sited in venues which are permitted to open. A Downing Street spokesman said: “We know that meeting Father Christmas is a magical experience for children, which is why he will be taking safety precautions, including ensuring that he is operating in a Covid-secure way. But it won’t be required for Santa to wear a mask this year.”

Are there any other solutions?

Outdoor grottoes are less bound by restrictions. One which was to have taken place indoors at Dalkeith Country Park in Midlothian was cancelled last week, with the Park quoting a Scottish Government directive issue last Friday which said “there should be no indoor Santa experiences in Level Three areas”. It has now been moved outside. You can also enjoy a digital grotto – even as you read this, virtual versions are springing up all over the internet like rogue Christmas tree sellers in car parks and gap sites.

So will Santa still be able to come down the chimney?

Yes, though probably not if you’re in Level Three or above. Otherwise, just remember to leave out some hand sanitiser along with the sherry and the mince pies.