With just a day to go until the big day, kids and adults the world over are wondering just where a certain fat man dressed in red might be.
Believe it or not, two major American institutions have dedicated a tool to establishing that very fact.
Both Google and the North American Aerospace Defense Command – or NORAD for short – have released websites to help you track Santa. No, really!
Okay, not really. But both provide a bit of extra festive fun for those who go in for this sort of thing. Allow us to explain.
Google Santa Tracker
The Google Santa Tracker takes the form of both a website and an Android app this year, both of which offer a series of fun mini-games, videos, educational tools, and diversions, as well as a countdown to Christmas day in your region.
The whole ‘tracker’ thing stems from the fact that Google will be posting updates as Santa appears in various cities around the world on Christmas Eve.
You also get a series of colouring-in tasks, offering up festive scenes that need to be filled in with with digital crayons.
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The games are a mixed bunch of casual time-wasters and arcady high-score chasers. Elf Jamband, for example, sees you putting together the various elements of a band – drums, vocals, guitars, and the like – and listening to the results.
Rudolph Racer, meanwhile, is a sort of inverted, simplified take on Skiing Yeti Mountain. But not half as good, obviously.
With new diversions being unlocked every day over the Christmas period, it’s a little like a digital advent calendar filled with virtual goodies. Gorge away.
The slightly scary-sounding North American Aerospace Defense Command becomes slightly less scary over Christmas with its own Santa Tracker.
It’s not half as slick or good as Google’s effort, but don’t say that too loud or they might use their Death Star on you, like in…
…the new Star Wars film.
So what is the NORAD Santa Tracker?
In NORAD’s own words: “Each year, NORAD tracks the geographical location of Santa Claus as he makes his annual trip delivering gifts to children around the world and makes that information available to the general public.”
NORAD is actually the original Santa Tracker, in many ways. The American defence agency has been tracking Santa every year since 1955, though of course back then it was all telephone based, as kids charmingly/stupidly called in to determine the whereabouts of Mr Claus and ended up speaking to gruff military personnel who were taking a break from plotting nuclear annihalation.
Now it mainly involves a slightly iffy website, though a volunteer-run phone service still exists.
Like the Google equivalent, NORAD’s Santa tracker website offers a mixture of games, educational activities, videos, and terrible Christmas music. There’s even a gift shop, should you wish to order a limited edition NORAD Santa Tracker hoodie. Who are we kidding? Of course you do!
The games don’t have the crisp, unified aesthetic or even the Christmas theme of Google’s equivalents, and instead seem to be a collection of third rate flash games. There’s a Flappy Bird knock-off, a panda-starring one-button platformer that somehow gets its one control wrong, and… we gave up there, to be honest.
Oh, and there’s also a ‘Colouring Page’ that only works if you’re using Windows 10 and the Microsoft Edge web browser. But hey, it’s Christmas! Good will to all men! Even those who made this website.
The right track
So, if you want to track Santa this year – or, more likely, to keep your kids quiet until it comes time to open up their presents – our recommendation would be for the Google Santa Tracker. It’s a charmingly presented box of shallow digital confectionary.
Only give the NORAD one a try if you’re a sucker for US military history or are interested in late-’90s web design.