Santa's Grotto: Step by Step Guide


Running a successful Santa Grotto 🎅requires careful planning and attention to detail to create a magical and memorable experience for children and their families. Based on Classlist insights across hundreds of schools, here is some advice on how to achieve this:

Prep work

1. Start Planning Early:
  • Begin planning for your Santa Grotto well in advance, ideally several months before the Christmas season. This will give you ample time to sort out venue logistics, recruit volunteers, and to gather supplies such as decorations and presents for the children.
2. Establish a Budget:
  • Create a budget that includes all your expenses, including decorations, costumes, and gifts. Be sure to factor in any potential sources of income, such as ticket sales or sponsorship if you can get any, to cover these costs.
3. Select a Suitable Location:
  • Many Grottos take place within Christmas Fairs, but some are standalone. Choose a location that is easily accessible, safe, and large enough to accommodate the expected number of visitors waiting. Consider the layout, parking options, and any accessibility requirements.  
4. Decorate the Grotto:
  • Transform your venue into a magical wonderland with festive decorations, twinkling lights, and holiday-themed props. Create a warm and inviting atmosphere that immerses visitors in the holiday spirit.
5. Recruit Volunteers:
  • Enlist volunteers to play various roles, such as Santa, elves, and greeters. Ensure that volunteers are friendly, enthusiastic, and well-trained to provide a positive and authentic experience.  Remember to keep who is who secret from the children!
6. Santa's Costume:
  • Invest in a high-quality Santa Claus costume for the most realistic appearance. Santa's outfit, beard, and accessories should be convincing to enhance the overall experience.
7. Gifts:
  • Choose age-appropriate gifts for children who visit Santa. Consider offering personalised photo packages with Santa as a keepsake option.
8. Booking System:
  • Implement an online booking system such as Classlist to manage visitor traffic and reduce long wait times. Parents can pay and choose a timeslot.  This will help streamline the experience and minimise frustration for families.
9. Entertainment and Activities:
  • Enhance the grotto experience with entertainment and activities like storytelling, carol singing, or craft stations. These can keep families engaged while they wait to see Santa.
10. Photography and Memories:
  • Arrange for a professional photographer or set up a photo booth for families to capture their Santa encounter. Provide digital and printed photo options for purchase or as part of a package.
11. Feedback and Improvement:
  • After the event, gather feedback from visitors through surveys or reviews. Use this information to make improvements and enhance the Santa Grotto experience for the following year.

How Classlist can support your Santa’s Grotto

We’ve observed our event organisers run successful Santa’s Grotto events over the years. It is really interesting how they use the Classlist event tool to reduce administrative tasks before the event and on the day. 

One of the main challenges that Classlist helps with is the scheduling of grotto appointments. We have seen event organisers get super creative when it comes to scheduling but they usually opt for one of the following solutions using Classlist’s event management tool: 

  • Using the signup list tool (as well as tickets); or 
  • Creating lots of different event ticket types each with specified time slots. 

The table below sets out the pros and cons of each approach:


How to


Sign-up tool

Use sign-up lists to organise times and numbers of places
  • Slots are automatically generated so less data entry is required.
  • You can specify the slot length and the number of places available.
  • You can download the list to a spreadsheet.
  • Tell parents to purchase their tickets and then select a time slot from the event sign-up lists. 
  • Parents will be able to manage their time-slot bookings, removing and rescheduling as needed.

Event tickets 

Create separate tickets with times in the ticket title.
  • Parents can book the slot and pay for it at the same time in one transaction.
  • You can download the list to a spreadsheet.
  • Parents can easily view tickets from the event page.

  • Your ticket list can get quite long, but parents can see all the options and book as needed.
  • If parents want to change their time slot, they will need to buy another ticket and contact you for a refund of the initial booking.

Step-by-step guide on how to run a Santa’s Grotto 

Running Santa’s Grotto

We get a lot of questions about this and the set-up can vary between schools but here is our suggested way of running this event using Classlist.

 Using a ticketed event and adding times to each ticket type means that parents can book and pay in advance for their slot. This means queuing can be minimised and Santa can maximise the number of children seen in the allotted time. You can even add questions to check in advance who has been naughty or nice!

1. Create an event
  • Set up an event with tickets
  • If using tickets for people to choose their time add descriptions that state the time e.g. every 15 minutes.
  • Add the total quantity of children you want Santa to see in that time slot, in this example, we have said 5 which allows for 3 minutes each with Santa. These people will be queueing together but can still visit Santa individually or in family groups. If you think a lot of families will have children going in together you may find you can accommodate a higher number of children during the time slot. 


  • Alternatively, add a Sign-ip list to your event with timeslots that people can choose after buying their tickets eg 5-minute time slots.  This is very easy to do as you just choose a time range and length of slot and we do the rest!
2. Add questions to your event
  • You could ask questions with the event tickets so Santa can personalise the experience. E.g. ‘Name of child?’ and  ‘What has your child been really good at this year?’ The elves could then help Santa by reminding him of the answers before each child goes in so he can tailor the experience to that child.
3. Ticket Allocation
  • Once you publish your event parents can purchase their chosen tickets in one easy transaction in advance. 
  • If using Sign-Up lists for time slots they can choose their time slot as well.
  • They can check their tickets/time slots on the event page as well as in their email confirmation.
  • You can download a spreadsheet of who has tickets. For easy list sorting purposes if you have sold tickets with timeslots you may want to add a letter to the beginning of the ticket descriptions eg ‘Ticket A. Santa’s Grotto 10am’, ‘Ticket B. Santa’s Grotto 10.15am’ etc (Please don't edit ticket descriptions once the event is live).
  • You also download the Sign-up list.
4. On the day
  • You could plan to provide entertainment while queueing such as having the elves help children make paper chains or another simple activity. 
  • The children can then go in one at a time or in family groups depending on their preference.
  • Elves/Santa would all need to manage the timings per child to ensure the whole group was seen within their allotted time.
  • Selling tickets in 15-minute slots this way means that their maximum queue time is 15 minutes - so families can spend more time at other areas of your event.  If anyone is a few minutes late, others in their group can easily be seen first.
  • Santa’s time is maximised so he can see the most children possible as time taken by each family will vary a bit.
  • Alternatively, you can do 5-minute slots with the sign-up lists as well.

Happy festive season!



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