Santa Claus is definitely wired – how else could he juggle his daunting workload year after year? He certainly has plenty of electronic helpers, running Web sites that let you track Santa's activities and partake in other Christmas traditions on the Internet.
Most of the sites are hobby projects, Web pages built by enthusiasts. If you visit enough Christmas-oriented Web sites, you'll eventually see nearly every rule of good Web design broken – but the sheer joy of the season can shine through flashing backgrounds, leaping icons, and colour combinations that make your eyeballs wiggle.
Here's a starter selection of sites that specialize in bringing seasonal games and activities to kids of all ages:
Find Santa Online
NORAD Tracks Santa: On Christmas Eve this is the place to be, as the US national defence infrastructure tracks the progress of Santa Claus on his annual visit to girls and boys around the world. While you're waiting for the journey to begin, you can read articles on the science of Santa, Santa's history, and just why NORAD got involved with Santa in the first place. Click here.
Santa Claus at Claus.com: I spent several days tracking my progress on the Nice list during visits to this site. This site provides games, Santa lore, and ways to check at the last minute just how many chores must be done to ensure a full stocking on Christmas morning.
Christmas Games: This site is designed to keep children happy as they help find Santa's sleigh, take an elf exam, or make up a new Christmas carol. The games are age-rated and age-appropriate, though Mum and Dad may want to take the volume level way down to avoid the music that begins when the page opens. Click here.
Kids Domain Christmas Games: This site has games of its own, but its main value is as an aggregation of lots of different Christmas-themed games from various sites.
One of the best features is the separate selection of Java and Shockwave games. If you have these plug-ins loaded for your browser, the action quotient on games such as Santa Panic (a Shockwave game in which you help Santa get back to his sleigh) can keep the little ones entertained for a long time. Click here.
Santa Coloring Book: The colouring book is great if you have children who enjoy picking up crayons and making art inside the lines. There are loads of GIF files that download quickly and can be printed out for later colouring. This could be a great site to visit before getting in the car for the long drive to Grandmother's house. Click here.
Seasonal (fun) studies
Many other sites educate you and your family about the history and traditions of Christmas.
The History Channel: This site, tied to the cable television channel, lists 107 entries under "Christmas." It provides a wide variety of articles to interest those who want to know more about the religious, cultural, and commercial aspects of Christmas--and some articles that don't involve the holiday at all, such as those concerning Christmas Island. Click here.
How Christmas Works: HowStuffWorks.com gives easy-to-understand explanations of many technologies and phenomena. This article looks at where and why Christmas traditions began, and how they continue to shape the holiday. Click here.
Email to Santa
It's not surprising that Santa works through the Internet. A number of sites let your children send letters to Santa, check their status on the Naughty or Nice list, and get a peek at some of the letters written by others.
Santa Claus' Favorite Letters: At this site you can take a look at other letter writers' messages. Some are touching, some are funny, and some simply show the amazing variety of human experience. Click here.
Santa Claus Online: Here you can send a letter to Santa, get information on The Jolly Old Elf, send electronic Christmas cards, and try many other Christmas activities. Click here.
Making the rounds
Feeling adventurous? Web rings are collections of sites that follow a particular theme. You go to one site in the ring, and then click on "next" to visit a similar site.
Not all will be world-class sites, but you'll see a variety of takes on Santa and Christmas by clicking around the ring. Some sites are on more than one ring, but each ring pulls more than a dozen sites together for your happy holiday Web surfing.