It’s Christmas Eve, time for all good boys and girls to be expecting Santa Claus to be bringing them gifts. But where is jolly old St. Nick on his journey? Once again, there are two major services tracking him: NORAD and Google. Below, our annual review of the tracking sites and methods of using them that range from the web, to your mobile device, to your TV and even a good old-fashioned phone call.
Here are both major Santa Trackers providing updates in 2013:
NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint US-Canadian operation that watches the skies for threats. NORAD has been tracking Santa since 1955, something that started by accident. An ad for a local Sears store invited children to call for Santa’s location. By mistake, the number for NORAD’s predecessor, CONAD, was printed. Rather than disappoint the children who called, the military used its radars to spot Father Christmas in the sky.
Google is the search giant known to anyone looking for something on the internet. From 2007 through 2011, Google partnered with NORAD to track on Santa tracking. But last year, NORAD found a new partner with Microsoft and its Bing search engine. Google wanted to stay in the Santa tracking business, so it launched its own service. That’s back again this year.
It’s possible that the two services will report Santa as being in different locations seemingly at the same time. There are two good explanations for this.
First, both services use different Santa tracking technologies. If you want to know more about all that, see our story from last year, Santa Tracking Explained: Why NORAD & Google Show Different Locations & Gifts Delivered.
Second, Santa’s really fast. He has to be! Neither service can keep up with how quickly he moves, so they try to approximate things as best they can.
Having said this, both services are reporting Santa’s location much more similarly than last year. A little Christmas miracle has probably helped with that.
Onward to the ways to spot Kris Kringle, with the easiest, using a map via your computer, tablet or phone.
NORAD’s site has had a major overhaul, and you might get an unpleasant surprise if your browser window isn’t stretched in “landscape mode” or more wide than it is tall:
If you get this message, don’t worry — it’s easily fixed. Just resize your window until you get the welcome screen:
Click on the tablet icon that’s positioned in the middle of the globe, and you’ll see where Santa’s currently estimated to be flying:
Buttons in the top right corner allow you to zoom in and out on Santa, and you can click on him and drag to rotate the view around. The screen also shows you where he was last seen, where he’s heading and current number of gifts estimated to be delivered.
Over at Google, there’s also a map that pinpoints Santa’s location, which appears as soon as you enter the site:
Similar to NORAD, you’ll see previous and next predicted locations, an estimate for number of presents delivered plus his current “attitude,” such as if he found the cookies left out to be good (“mmm … delicious!”).
If you want a cool 3D view from Google, like you get with NORAD, that’s also available. Just click on the “Earth” link in the top left corner:
Unlike with NORAD, you can’t zoom in or move the image around. But you should get a satellite view of Father Christmas flying over different areas.
Both maps also show you the places where Santa’s been spotted. Don’t worry. He does go everywhere. It’s just not every visit is captured by these maps. At NORAD, to see this, click on the 2D/3D button in the top left corner:
That changes the map to a flat world view. Still and video camera icons mark where Santa’s been, though only video icons have images of him in flight. A Santa icon spots his current location, and clicking on the camera icon in the top left corner will recenter the map around where he’s at.
With Google, there’s a little circle around Santa’s current location on the map, with a red X in the top right of that circle. Click on that X, and you’ll get a map of where he’s been spotted:
Selecting a location doesn’t show any images of Santa there. You’ll just see when he arrived and the local weather. Like NORAD, you will have the ability to explore more about the place via Wikipedia information.
Perhaps the coolest part of the NORAD Santa tracker is that it, unlike Google, has video of Santa flying around various locations. Unfortunately, it’s a bit harder to locate these videos than in past years, but they’re out there.
One way is to use the 2D map of places Santa’s been, as described above, then click on any of the video camera icons shown. You’ll be taken to video of him flying over that location. Here’s a screenshot of him flying over the Taj Mahal:
Here’s an actual clip of him flying over Sydney, Australia:
If you can’t spot the video icons on the map easily, there is a movie archive on the site. Close the Santa tracker using the X in the top left-corner, then choose “Movies” from the menu on the left-hand side of the screen. A new “Theater” screen will appear with any movies that are available.
Unfortunately, as you scroll down the list, the video player itself moves up and out-of-sight. That means when you click on a particular clip, you might not realize it’s playing unless you figure out you need to scroll back up to see the player.
A much easier option is just to go to the NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube channel. There, you’ll find the most recent video captured as well as any past ones (under “Recent Uploads”) and offered with narration in various languages.
NORAD offers ways to track Santa via app, though locating these can be tough. You have to know to click on the “NORAD HQ” link on the site, then the “Contact Us” link, then know to scroll down to find the links. To make it easier, here are the direct links:
The phone apps are pretty basic. You just get a location, on a map. Below are examples of what you get on Android, the iPhone and Windows Phone, in that order:
The Windows 8 app is similar, so basic that it doesn’t seem worth bothering to install it versus just going to NORAD Tracks Santa in your web browser.
Google has Santa tracking apps, too — but only for Google products, Android and Chrome.
The Google Santa Tracker for Chrome puts a little icon into your browser. Click on that, and you have fast access to Santa’s location:
The Google Santa Tracker for Android shows a map of where Santa is at:
Notice the big red arrow in the screenshot above. It’s pointing to a special cool feature of the Google app. It can send Santa’s location to your TV, if you have a Google Chromecast:
This is probably my favorite new thing in Santa tracking this year. Once you tap to send the tracking app to Chromecast, the TV will continue to update the location, even if you turn your phone off. It also rotates through various screens:
Very cool. Very well done, Google. I only wish it was made available for iPhone and Windows Phone users or somehow worked within the Chrome browser for anyone.
NORAD provides updates on Santa’s location through its three social media accounts:
Here’s an example of some tweet updates on Twitter:
Google’s Santa Tracker doesn’t have its own social media accounts. But like last year, Google Maps is sharing updates through it accounts:
You can also type “santa” into Google to get an instant update of his location:
If you want to go low-tech, you can always email NORAD for updates. Message firstname.lastname@example.org, and you’ll get an email back similar to what’s shown on the side.
Finally, you can also call. That’s right — an old-fashioned phone call to NORAD, which is how it all began with NORAD doing Santa tracking.
The number is 1-877-HI-NORAD (which is 1-877-446-6723). You’ll probably get a recorded message, then after a short wait (it was about two minutes for me), usually a military volunteer spending Christmas Eve will answer, doing a different type of service, that of helping children and adults around the world continue to believe.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us here at Search Engine Land!