An angry mum spat in the face of an elf at a shopping centre Christmas grotto.
The woman lost her temper when told she could not take her child into the grotto in Stockton-on-Tees because she did not have a booking, police said.
She also verbally abused other elves, said Karen Eve, manager of the Castlegate Shopping Centre, who added that the flare-up "doesn't scream Christmas spirit at all".
Security has been stepped up at the centre and police are investigating.
A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said the assault happened during the grotto's autism friendly hour, when the lights and noises are dimmed and places must be booked ahead.
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Ms Eve, who described the mum as "really hostile", said: "It was a really awful situation.
"The elves have dusted themselves down and they're absolutely fine.
"Most people have been appalled by what has happened."
She said the grotto would have to have "parameters put in place" to protect staff.
Police are appealing for witnesses to the assault, which happened between 15:00 and 16:00 GMT on Saturday.