This is not your local mall Santa.
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Harrods, a famously upscale department store in London’s swanky Kensington neighborhood, has operated a “Christmas Grotto” since 1955, providing children the chance to sit on Father Christmas’ lap and receive a gift. At this year’s Swarovski-sponsored Grotto, Harrods says, families can “discover a snow-covered woodland filled with sparkling surprises that will leave little ones mesmerized by the magic of Christmas.”
A ticket to the storied area costs £20 ($25.69) per child and is free for adults and children under 3. However, the ability to buy those tickets costs thousands more.
Only customers who have achieved at least Green Tier 2 rewards status with Harrods by Aug. 26 received invitations to purchase grotto tickets this year. Green 2 status requires a customer to spend at least £2,000, or $2,571 as of exchange rates on Nov. 12, in-store or online at Harrods.
“We care hugely about making a visit to the Grotto as magical as possible, therefore tickets are extremely limited,” Harrods says on its website. Despite the barrier to entry, tickets for the experience still sold out.
However, the Qatari-owned superstore faced widespread backlash from customers and those who have turned trips to the Grotto into a holiday tradition.
“They have lost the true meaning of Christmas and given into the commercialization of the season,” 40-year-old father James Browne, who visits the attraction annually with his children, told The Guardian. “Visiting Father Christmas shouldn’t be reserved for those that are fortunate enough to frequent the store and spend thousands of pounds.”
Harrods responded to the criticism by opening 160 time slots at the Grotto to families who did not achieve Green Tier 2 status, per The Guardian. Ten daily winners were picked from a “wishing well” set up at the store to receive one of the complimentary booking slots.