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Behind the Scenes with Father Christmas at Preston Manor

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When you get to springtime and the Christmas tree and baubles are long packed away and your only thoughts are for the summer ahead, set a moment aside to think of the Father Christmas event organiser.

In late April I am to be found poring over grotto gift catalogues ordering Christmassy gifts for the 200 children per day that visit Father Christmas at Preston Manor over six days in December. Placing an early May order is essential for the arrival of over a thousand ready-wrapped gifts in mid-November.

I’ve been running a Father Christmas event for Royal Pavilion & Museums every year since 2008. The event started at the Royal Pavilion that year transferring to Preston Manor from 2014. Making Christmas in a historic house a magical experience is a varied, complex and demanding job. I quite literally dream about Christmas throughout the whole year. It goes without saying the event wouldn’t happen without the unseen heroes working front-of-house or back-office dealing with bookings and enquiries.

What are the essentials of a perfect event? You need a fabulous Father Christmas and Elf combo (tick) you need an enchanting room to act as a grotto (we’ve got those!) and you want some simple yet engaging seasonal activities for small children, so a themed trail or dressing-up goes down well. Add a fabulous museum to the mix and you have yourself a winner.

Children do not visit Father Christmas individually. If they did we’d be here until Easter so great is the demand. The event works as ‘An Audience with Father Christmas’ with groups of up to twelve families entering the grotto aka Lady Ellen’s gracious Drawing Room decorated for the season. Children sit on a cosy carpet at the great man’s feet and are spoken to individually in turn when presented with their gift. Honed over the years this system works well especially for the shyer child for whom the experience can be overwhelming.

Christmas is a stressful time for adults, so our job at Preston Manor is to provide escapist peace and harmony. My vision for Preston Manor is ‘step into that nostalgic glittery Christmas-card picture you have in your head but never quite find in the real world’.

At Preston Manor you really can leave the 21st century behind and wallow unashamedly in the glorious yuletide fantasy Mr Charles Dickens created.

Many children come to the event with a letter for Father Christmas and these make wonderful reading, and each year I archive a selection; if Preston Manor exists in 100 years’ time these lists of toys of the moment will read as quaint relics of a past-age.

“I have been good this year” is a recurrent statement, as is “I have brushed my teeth”. This line occurs so many times I wonder if Father Christmas spends the rest of his year working in dentistry.


Paula Wrightson, Venue Officer, Preston Manor