Gone are the days when Santa travelled incognito with supernatural stealth. Thanks to digital technology, the jolly old elf now has his Christmas journey closely monitored, writes Ed Power
When I was a kid, Santa Claus travelled by night and with supernatural stealthiness. Every Christmas Eve he would creep into the room I shared with my brother and, like a magical Deliveroo agent, drop off his urgent consignment of Fisher-Price sets and Star Wars figurines.
Only once did he slip up and make a noise — so loud that my parents were woken and crept into our room to see what the fuss was about. I snapped awake to find them at the end of the bed holding the presents the big man had just deposited. Any earlier and they would probably have caught him in the act.
Christmas back then is nothing like Christmas today of course. In the olde days, the hysteria didn’t kick in until after December 8, rather than the moment Halloween is done. Christmas trees were made from artificial tinsel and adorned with baubles that shattered into magical shards if gazed at askance. It was all, you suspect, ever so slightly flammable. There was also a constitutional provision mandating that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory be shown on RTÉ every year.
Another big change is that 2019 Santa is far more transparent about his Christmas Eve schedule. In this new era of accountability, we know he sets off from the North Pole early evening Irish-time and then quickly makes his way west across Asia, up along Turkey, through Europe until finally, circa 3am, making landfall in Ireland.
What makes me so certain of my facts? Easy — my children and I now track his progress every year using the yuletide powers of the internet.
There’s no escaping digital technology today and the big jolly elf — that’s Santa, not Jeremy Clarkson and the new Grand Tour special — is no exception. Tech companies such as Google offer sophisticated ‘Santa trackers’ that let us keep tabs on the most important global circumnavigation in the calendar.
I can think of no better way of passing the night before Christmas. The turkey is stuffed; the 11th-hour panic-buying has concluded; all that’s left is to whip out your laptop and catch up with old St Nick.
And how fascinating it is to watch his sleigh navigate mountain ranges and oceans pixel by pixel. You can also stare at the volume of presents he gets through — thousands of gifts per hour as she speeds his way towards your house. There are practical benefits too, as you calculate the best moment to leave milk and biscuits out for your visitor.
But here’s where it gets complicated. Because nothing in life can be simple — not even remote stalking a mystical, toy-delivering Laplander — a number of competing services are vying for your Santa-tracking time. Ho-ho-hold on tight as we assess the contenders.
If bells and whistles are your thing, Google has the Santa tracker for you. Since 2012, the not-evil-in-the-slightest search giant has kept tabs on Santa, much as it does on the rest of us (no point deleting your search history, Mr Claus — Google knows all). Google’s Santa site bursts with colour and it’s easy-to-follow Rudolph and the gang (and, yes kids, ALL YOUR TOYS) on their crimbo circumnavigation.
And should your eyes begin to glaze, you can also enjoy the many mini-games provided, including an elf dance class, where you guide two pointy-eared hoofers across the floor by matching shapes Tetris-style, and a Reindeer Worries video — it’s not-as-ominous-as-it sounds. Because the world has moved on, Santa and Mrs Claus receive equal billing too. For accessibility and ease of use, this is your Christmas go-to. Still, be warned that the games are such fun your children may be more interested in those than in following Santa as he traverses Uzbekistan at teatime.
(via the App Store)
Steve Jobs and Santa had a lot in common. They rationed their public appearances, always touted shiny new playthings and were surrounded by busy minions doing their bidding.
So it was inevitable that the Apple App Store was going to get into the Santa-tracking game, which it has with its dedicated app. ‘Where Is Santa?’ allows you to follow this legendary and beloved figure — that’s Santa rather than Steve Jobs — every day of the year, “and not just on Christmas eve”. That final boast seems a bit redundant considering that he spends most of his time in his toy factory in the North Pole. But still, it’s good to know that iPhone users aren’t being left out.
‘Alexa, where is Santa, and did he bring me the life-sized Lego X-Wing fighter I requested?’ Yes, Amazon too has been getting into Santa tracking via its voice-activated personal assistant. This Alexa “skill” can be downloaded from Amazon.co.uk. Happy ho-ho-ho-holding Santa to account.
Google and NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defence Command — worked hand-in-hand monitoring Santa for many years.
However, they had a ‘big split’ in 2012 and now NORAD collaborates with Microsoft. Until 2018, the site was relatively stripped-down and without gimmicks.
Oh, but how that has changed. This year there’s a “music theatre” where you can listen to some of Santa’s favourite songs and, oh holy night, a gift shop where you can feast on NORAD merchandise — shirts, hoodies, and sweaters with Santa on the front and NORAD on the back.
One innovation that arguably sets it ahead of Google is an ‘Advent calendar’ of mini-games, with a new one unlocked every day. You can already play Santa’s Adventures in Candyland and the Candycrush-esque Gift Craft, with fresh distractions to follow all the way to the 25th.