Santa’s sack might not be bulging with your child’s first choice of toy, so it’s important to adjust their expectations.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that a visit to Santa’s grotto is a straightforward operation. The entire event, while aimed at giving your wide-eyed child a never-to-be-forgotten experience, is fraught with the potential for tears.

That’s if you can even get to see the guy in red in the first place.

Harrods store in London started taking bookings for their Santa’s Grotto on August 4 this year, and before an autumn leaf had fallen they were fully booked for December, with every weekend in November also taken by the beginning of October.

Your local shopping centre will probably have lengthy queues at peak times, so it pays to plan ahead if your nippers are hoping for a short visit to Father Christmas. Phone the centre to check arrangements and opening times and to find out the cost. Depending on how much you pay, your child will receive an appropriate gift, but it’s important to make your child aware that Santa will not be presenting them with the computer console they’ve been hankering after all year – just in case their expectations run away with them.

Once they do get to the grotto door and the sleigh bells are ringing in their ears, some little ones find it all a bit too much and can be overwhelmed by the whole experience, as our picture testifies. And if they’ve had a long wait and are tired that will also take the edge off their encounter. Suddenly being plunged into a dimly lit room might also have a detrimental effect, but any quality Santa’s grotto will have been sensitively designed to promote a calm atmosphere and to transport your child to a magical world where twinkly lights and soft music lull them into the cosy world of their dreams.

If it’s the first time you’ve taken your child to meet Santa ask parents at school for their observations about the standard of Santa encountered in previous visits to local grottos and choose the one who comes out at the top of the list of satisfied customers. You seek out consumer reports for most things you buy, so why should you abandon due diligence when choosing Santa?

Santa is not immune to mishaps

* One Santa in Birmingham got the chop last year after taking a call on his mobile phone. The father-of-two didn’t want to miss the call from the Jobcentre, who were calling about his benefits and the effect his seasonal work would have on them.

The Father Christmas was quick to explain to the children he was with that it was an important call from Lapland about their toys, and that everything would be OK. The kids in question were happy enough, but not his employers and he lost his job.

* Santa was also in hot water in a large London store, where he was shown the door for inviting children – and adults – to sit on his lap.

Despite a friendly warning from an Elf Santa continued to break the rules and was removed from his grotto.

The store in question said that it was against company policy, having made it clear to Father Christmas during his training that no one should sit on his lap. The dismissal cost Father Christmas season earnings of about £2,500.