Thu, Dec 09, 2004 - Page 6 News List

`Mini-riot' starts after Santa snubs children

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Every year, the poor old bloke must assemble increasingly expensive gifts for ever more demanding young clients. So perhaps it was no surprise when a group of children on a day trip to Lapland were told that Father Christmas was too busy to see them.

What's more, rather than working with helpful elves and reindeer by a roaring fire in his cosy grotto, the Arctic circle's harassed Santa struggled with his English and was surrounded by dirty plates and ketchup bottles.

Faced with such a disappointing scene, a group of furious British parents, who paid ?450 (US$869) a person to fly to Finland and endured a two-hour wait with their children to meet Father Christmas.

"The resort was picturesque and really got us into the Christmas spirit, with reindeer roaming around, sledging, husky dog rides and skidoos. But that was where the fun ended," said Hilary Hughes, 65, from Worcestershire."

She said it had taken her three years to save enough money to treat her two daughters and four grandchildren to their dream Christmas trip.

Instead of meeting elves after a sleigh ride through the woods, overcrowding led tour guides to announce that Santa's grotto was out of bounds because of "operational" problems.

"As soon as the rep broke the news, all hell broke loose. People were shouting and bawling while children began sobbing -- it was almost a mini-riot," Hughes said.

While some of the British tourists were eventually marched through Santa's cave, others met him in a grubby restaurant corner.

"When you think of meeting Santa, you think of him sitting down by a roaring fire while snow and ice cover the ground outside. What we got was Father Christmas standing in the doorway of a restaurant between the kitchen and the dining area," Hughes said.

"Behind him were dirty dinner plates and bottles of ketchup. He didn't speak English and just sat with each child for about 30 seconds. They were given stuffed reindeer toys but that was only to shut them up," she said.

A spokeswoman for Transun Travel said there had been "some difficulties" experienced by passengers visiting Lapland on Saturday, and the company would assess claims for compensation.

According to Hughes, her two eldest grandchildren, Thomas, 10, and Millie, eight, were so upset that they no longer believe in Father Christmas.

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