FATHER Christmas is a very busy man at this time of year – but the Herald has rung around its elf contacts and found five magical places where Old Saint Nick will be dropping by with his elves (and even a few real reindeer!) this festive season.

Over the next month or so, garden centres and family attractions across the area will be inviting youngsters to have fun and meet the great man himself, adding to the excitement of counting down to December 25.

Hop on board a Santa Special on the Watercress Line or at the Rural Life Centre, step into Birdworld’s Winter Wonderland, join Frosty the Snowman at Squire’s Christmas circus or be transported into an enchanting Neverland-inspired world at Marwell Zoo – there are plenty of local opportunities for youngsters to whisper their wish list and open an early present this Christmas.

* Winter Wonderland at Birdworld, on the A325 between Farnham and Bordon

With Christmas on the horizon, Birdworld’s festive elves are busy working away creating the park’s spectacular Winter Wonderland ready to welcome families from November 25. Now in its 18th year, the Birdworld Winter Wonderland experience consists of a unique walk-through grotto full of magical animated characters, sparkling lights and beautiful decorations.

Visitors will also have the chance to meet the park’s reindeer who will be helping Santa throughout December, along with other friendly animals from the Jenny Wren Farm.

After enjoying the winter scenes, the impish Birdworld elves will welcome families into their workshop before introducing the children to Santa to receive their present or a mince pie and a hot fruit punch for adults.

To book a space for Birdworld’s Winter Wonderland, visit birdworld.co.uk/christmas or call 01420 22992. Tickets start at £6.95 for adults and £8.95 for children.

* Santa Specials at the Rural Life Centre, Tilford

Enjoy a festive ride on the Rural Life Centre’s Old Kiln light railway on December 8, December 9, December 15 and December 16 with live animals, Santa’s toy workshop, seasonal refreshments and gifts.

Santa’s elves and all their Rustics helpers are busily preparing for his special event – moving the museum exhibits out of the way for now, checking out and fitting myriad lights, preparing all the things that Santa and his visitors expect to see; the animals and the decorations!

There might even be a glass of punch and a mince pie for parents.

All the toys are being made and prepared, but, as always, there will still be a few last-minute jobs in Santa’s workshop to be done that need the help of small hands – the signs to be hammered and the toys to be tested - before seeing the man himself in his grotto and (if you have been good) getting something to remember from him! Tickets cost £13.50 for children and £8.50 for adults, online at rural-life.org.uk or by calling 01252 795571. Pre-booking essential.

* Circuses, grottos and more at Squire’s Garden Centres, Badshot Lea, Frensham and Milford.

Count down to Christmas with an array of exciting events run by Squire’s this festive season, including a special Christmas circus, magical grottos, a chance to meet Santa’s real reindeer, and even to sit down with the great man himself for breakfast!

Santa’s grotto will open every Saturday and Sunday in Milford and also December 17-21 and even on Christmas Eve.

Santa’s grotto will open from Saturday, December 1 at Squire’s in Frensham and will be open every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in December, as well as at weekends and December 24. There’s no need to book, simply turn up on the day – but don’t go between 1pm and 2pm as Santa will be feeding his reindeer! Tickets cost £6 per child, with £1 from every ticket being donated to Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice at Frensham and The Samson Centre for MS at Milford.

You can also have breakfast with Santa at Squire’s in Frensham every weekend in December plus on Christmas Eve. Tickets cost £12 per child and £8 per adult.

Santa will also bring two of his real reindeer with him when he arrives at Squire’s in Badshot Lea on December 1 and December 2. It’s free to meet Santa’s reindeer – no booking required.

Father Christmas will return for Christmas circus The Greatest Snowman at Squire’s in Badshot Lea from Saturday to December 24.

After the show each child will meet Santa and, if they have been very good, will receive an early Christmas present.

Tickets begin at £13 for both adults and children. Visit squiresgardencentres.

* Santa Specials on the Watercress Line, Alton to Alresford

Travel in a festive train carriage for a magical trip where Santa and his jolly helpers visit you in your seat with a gift.

Grown-ups get treated to white wine and mince pies, while children enjoy a soft drink and a gingerbread man.

Each child will also receive an activity pack to keep them entertained on this enchanting one-hour journey.

Don’t forget to bring your very best singing voice to join in with your favourite Christmas songs too.

Departures from Alresford and Alton stations take place on December 1, December 2, December 8, December 9, December 15, December 16 and December 19 through to Christmas Eve.

Fares range from £18 for adults, £18 for children aged one to 16 years old, and £10 for under ones. Advanced booking is essential.

For more information and to book, visit watercressline.co.uk.

* Christmas at Marwell Zoo, near Winchester

Marwell Zoo has transformed into a magical winter wonderland for its much-anticipated festive event.

Children and adults will delight at glittering illuminated trees before stepping inside the zoo’s Grade I-listed manor house, Marwell Hall to be transported into an enchanting Neverland-inspired world.

The journey begins with some warming festive refreshments before Mother Christmas will greet guests young and old in Pirate Cove for an enchanting sensory reading of a tale inspired by Peter Pan.

Families will then join Marwell’s mischievous elves in their workshop where little ones will create their very own Christmas present bag to take home.

Finally the big man himself will be in his grotto granting wishes and giving a wonderful gift to each child before families can pose for a professionally-taken family photo as a lasting memory of the day.

Christmas at Marwell runs until Friday, December 21. Visit marwell.org.uk/zoo/christmas.