Every year, jolly old St Nick embarks on an incredible journey, visiting homes across the world in just one mince pie-fuelled night. How does just one elderly and rotund individual manage such a feat? That, we can't explain, but with the help of some smart technology, we can at least track the portly fellow's progress.
There are two main agencies who monitor his movements on Christmas Eve, both inviting you to follow along on your smartphone, tablet or computer. The oldest is military operation NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command), while relatively new on the scene is Google (who obviously need no introduction).
If you're feeling festive, why not also check out our run-down of the best Christmas apps available?
With two tech giants vying for your attention this yuletide season, we take a closer look at both...
History of NORAD Santa Tracker
NORAD - a military organisation tasked with protecting US airspace - has been tracking Santa for the longest of the two. The tradition started back in 1955, when a festive department store catalogue misprinted Santa's phone number, accidentally offering the number of CONAD (an earlier version of NORAD) instead. This led to excited children phoning a bewildered Colonel Harry Shoup, and asking to speak to the big guy in red.
Not wanting to disappoint, Colonel Shoup employed the military-grade technology at his disposal to offer real-time updates on St. Nick's progress, fielding children's calls for the entire night.
This inspired the agency to start using its resources to track Santa on an annual basis, with the press informed that “CONAD, Army, Navy and Marine Air Forces will continue to track and guard Santa and his sleigh on his trip to and from the US.” This continued through to 1958 when CONAD became NORAD, and it's been a yuletide service ever since.
NORAD Santa Tracker 2017
Today, The military organisation watches the skies over the USA and Canada – and with all those satellites at their disposal, they’re perfectly equipped to keep an eye on Santa and his reindeer. The 'NORAD Tracks Santa' programme is made possible with the help of hundreds of volunteers who man the phone lines and post regular updates on the position of Santa’s sleigh over the course of Christmas Eve. The volunteers take around 70,000 calls each year from people across 200 different countries.
NORAD’s coverage, which begins on 1st December, includes a 'Santa Cam' where visitors to the website can watch St Nick flying over a variety of global landmarks. There’s also an app, available on both iPhone and Android which lets you find out more about the project, play Christmas-themed games and follow Santa’s journey on a map.
You can track Santa online with NORAD right here
History of Google Santa Tracker
Google is a relative newcomer to Santa-tracking, but its popular mapping platforms and extensive satellite coverage have allowed it to become a friendly rival to NORAD’s annual activities.
The search giant launched its own Santa Tracker in 2004, originally following the jolly old elf with the help of Keyhole (now Google Earth). This has evolved to today's format, which shows a live feed of Father Christmas travelling across the world on Christmas Eve, which can even be streamed to your TV using Chromecast.
Google Santa Tracker 2017
In keeping with Google’s love of statistics, the service follows not only Santa’s position but also his distance travelled, the total number of presents he’s delivered and how far he is from the viewer’s home. It also includes weather information and fun facts about each country visited, as well as social media updates.
The Google Santa Tracker App (Android only) features games – including a VR version for Google Cardboard – and custom watch faces for Android Wear devices.
In the run-up to the Santa Tracker in December, Google hosts an advent calendar on the site with a new activity being revealed every day. Find Google's Santa tracking site right here.
Which Santa Tracker is best?
Both Santa trackers are great fun when it comes to following the path of Kris Kringle on the big night. Google's version brings the high-tech approach with added facts and stats along the way, along with the option to Chromecast the journey to your big-screen TV. NORAD on the other hand arrives with decades of history and tradition behind it, manned entirely by volunteers with the intention of preserving that Christmas magic. Whichever service you use, Santa is well-and-truly guaranteed to be spotted coming to town.
It’s never too early to start getting excited about Christmas – and your smartphone can help you join in with all sorts of festive fun. Head over to Mobiles.co.uk and pick up the best tech in town for tracking Santa.