Then finally: the part we’d all been waiting for – our moment with Father C. The children were sure they could only be on the Good List (who was it, then, who hid my keys five minutes before the school run only 24 hours earlier?), but nothing could have prepared them for Santa Claus knowing so much more than their names (“Siena! I’m surprised you didn’t cartwheel in!”; “Luca – I hear your baby brother is with his Grandparents this weekend!”)
His time for them seemed endless, and it was these moments which stuck with us long after we left his side.
And so, with sticky hands and muddy feet, we trudged back to the car, cheeks flushed from the cold and aching from smiling. I’d expect our little festive getaway to be one of those sacrifices that you bear, as parents, for the children’s sake. Instead, I found I’d never been more in need of such a soul-affirming reprieve.
It was not only a beautifully curated dose of IRL magic for our CGI generation, but for my husband and I, too. As we trundled home with our delicious muck magnets, I didn’t even mind the impending two days’ worth of laundry.
Kari Colmans was a guest of LaplandUK (tickets from £59 to £149) and Coworth Park, which has double rooms from £545 per night, and the Gardener’s West Cottage Suite from £1,970 per night.
Find festive breaks on home shores
Don’t miss the enchanted Christmas trail at Westonbirt National Arboretum for a dazzling woodland world of sparkling lights, festive sounds, and mesmerising installations. Local food carts will be selling seasonal food from mid-afternoon, plus there are specialist SEN sessions for those with additional needs (tickets from £12/19 children/adults; forestryengland.uk). Stay at the nearby Wild Thyme and Honey hotel for true Cotswold charm: think board games by a roaring fire and festive film screenings in the secret garden room (from £140; wildthymeandhoney.co.uk).
Grab the matching family onesies and head to Leeming Bar station at Wensleydale Railway for the annual Polar Express ride, pulled by a real steam engine (tickets from £31.95; yorkshiredalesthepolarexpressride.com). Expect a totally immersive theatrical experience on board, with all the characters you and the kids will know and love from the classic festive film. Make a weekend of it and stay at the nearby Swinton Park Hotel, a Grade II-listed castle set in 200 acres of parkland. Here Christmas activities include wreath-making, candlelit carols and yuletide trails (from £300; swintonestate.com).
There’s nothing quite like the capital at Christmas. Do it in style at Claridge’s – famed for its legendary tree created by a different fashion designer each year – where your suite comes with a Champagne welcome and your own Christmas tree. Plus you’ll spot the man in red pacing the corridors, so don’t forget to leave him carrots and mince pies (from £1,100; claridges.co.uk). You’ll also be steps away from Hyde Park’s ever-growing Winter Wonderland (tickets from £5; hydeparkwinterwonderland.com), where there are shows, ice skating, singalongs and rollercoasters, as well as the magical world of Wishmas (tickets from £22; wishmas.co.uk).