A full four months before Yuletide, Santas and elves have been appearing in stores to hand out savings cards which help their customers earn bonus points to spend during the Christmas season.

A spokeswoman explained: “The grottos are just a bit of fun as part of promotion for our Christmas savings cards. Our research shows that a lot of people are already starting to put money away for Christmas.”

There are just 17 grottos open in Asda stores around the country, and the supermarket group said they would stay open only until the weekend.

The Christmas savings scheme was prompted by research commissioned by Asda, which showed that almost half of mothers were more worried about the cost of Christmas this year than in 2011.

Nearly a third of those surveyed had already started saving for the festive period, but one in four expected to spend less this year, as many have tighter household budgets.

Not all mums were happy with the store’s campaign however. Mother-of-three Sharon Spencer told the Daily Mail she disapproved of Asda’s tactics.

‘How can they justify putting up a Santa’s grotto in August? It’s still four months until Christmas and all it is doing is forcing parents having to explain to their children that they can’t have any presents yet because it’s only August. It puts a lot of pressure on us parents especially given the fact that money is tight at the best of times.’

The ASA reported a flurry of complaints from customers who felt that the early adverts were inappropriate, but stated that this was not an area in which they were able to regulate.