Where’s Santa Claus? When will he arrive? Those are questions millions of children around the world are wondering this Christmas Eve. To help, two wonderful services stand ready as usual: NORAD Tracks Santa and Google Santa Tracker.
We here at Search Engine Land also stand ready, as usual, with our own tradition: the annual review of both services and how to get the most out of them, whether you’re accessing them from the web or a smartphone, or even by making an old-fashioned voice phone call.
Once again, here are the two major Santa tracking services we recommend for 2015:
Both are dependable and safe Santa trackers that will serve you well. Here’s some brief background about each of them.
NORAD stands for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint US-Canadian military operation. This year, NORAD is celebrating its 60th anniversary of tracking Jolly Old St. Nick.
It all began in 1955, thanks to a mistake. A Sears store printed the wrong phone number to call Santa in an ad, a number that rang the headquarters of NORAD’s predecessor, CONAD. The military group answered this unusual call to service by giving an update on Santa’s whereabouts, a tradition that’s continued ever since.
Google has been tracking Santa since 2004. First, it started on its own within Google Earth. Then, from 2007 through 2011, NORAD and Google worked together officially. In 2012, Google went back out on its own, and Microsoft became the NORAD partner.
You can read more about Google’s Santa-tracking history in our article from last year: How Google Became A Santa Tracker Tradition To Rival NORAD.
The easiest way to find the location of Santa Claus is just to search for him. Enter “Santa” into Google, and a box will appear at the top of the page:
Last year, Santa’s current location was listed in that box. This year, that’s not happening. Instead, you have to click on the box. You’ll then be taken to the Google Santa Tracker, where Santa’s location can be found, as explained in a moment.
You can also use Google Now or the Google search app to speak your search. Just say “Santa” to get a result like the one above. Don’t say, “Where’s Santa,” as that doesn’t work with Google.
At Bing, search for “Where’s Santa,” and his current location will be shown:
If you click on the “Follow Santa” link, you’ll be taken to the NORAD site, as described below.
Those who use the Bing-powered Cortana can speak, “Where’s Santa” and get a reply with his location:
This works for Cortana on Windows, iOS and Android.
By the way, Apple Siri is no help. If you ask Siri “Where’s Santa,” she just replies with her standard joke of “The North Pole of course!”
If you go to NORAD, a 3D view of where Santa is currently flying over will automatically appear:
At the top of the screen, you’ll be shown where he was last seen, where he’s heading and the estimated number of gifts delivered. Use your mouse to click and drag to rotate the view. Buttons in the top right corner let you zoom in and out.
Google has a similar overview map:
The Google map displays Santa’s current location on the left side. On the right, you’ll see Santa’s distance from you, gifts delivered so far, his next stop and when he’ll arrive there. You can also scroll the column on the right side to see his previous locations, as explained below.
Some children might be confused if they check both trackers at the same time and discover that Father Christmas is showing up at different locations. How is this possible?
One reason is that NORAD depends more on radar and satellites to scan for Santa, while Google depends more on updates that come from WiFi hot spots and cellular phone towers. That can lead to some delays and, in turn, differences. For more about this, see our more detailed story from 2013: Santa Tracking Explained: Why NORAD & Google Show Different Locations & Gifts Delivered.
The bigger reason is that Santa Claus is super-fast. By the time he’s spotted in one place, in a blink of an eye, he’s already moved on to the next. That’s why when it’s bedtime, kids really should get right to sleep. Santa could appear in a flash!
You can use the maps at Google and NORAD to see the places that Santa has already visited. Not every place he’s been to will be shown. Santa visits everywhere, of course. Listing all those places would make the map too crowded! If you don’t see your own location, don’t worry. Santa has either visited or is still on his way.
At NORAD, to see where Santa’s been, use the 2D/3D button at the top right of the screen to reveal the 2D view of the world. The icons on the map show where Santa’s been previously spotted. Click on a camera icon, and search results from Bing about that area will appear. Video camera icons should bring up actual video of Santa flying over some places. You can also click on the video camera icon in the top left corner to center the map around Santa’s current location:
By default, Google’s map will show all the places Santa’s been. Click on any location shown, and the screen will change with more information about that place:
Alternatively, scroll through the feed on the right-hand side of the screen to see the places he’s been, mixed among videos and other status updates.
My favorite feature from the Santa trackers is the one offered by NORAD, its Santa Cam videos that show Santa flying over different landmarks in cities around the world. Here is a screen shot of him flying over Sydney this year:
Here’s the actual video:
The easiest way to view all the Santa Cam videos as they are posted is to to click on the “Movies” link at the top of the NORAD site, which opens up a window with a video playlist:
NORAD also has a YouTube channel. However, it doesn’t list the Santa Cam videos there, even though they’re hosted on YouTube. Instead, the only way to discover them is through the NORAD site.
While Google has video clips, unlike NORAD, they don’t show Santa in flight, nor are they customized to any location.
Yes, there are apps for tracking Santa. NORAD offers them for Windows, iOS and Android:
The Windows, Android and iOS apps work in a similar way to going to the actual web site (and if you’re on a Windows desktop, there’s no compelling reason to use the Windows app over your browser). Here’s how it looks on iOS:
Once again, Google only offers an app for its Santa tracker on Android, which provides basic tracking information:
The app does offer the ability to Chromecast Santa’s location, which is nice. More on that is explained below. If you have Android Wear, you’re also supposed to be able to get a Santa tracker face.
Google also offers a browser extension for Chrome that puts an icon in the top right of your browser for instant access to Santa’s location. It’s very handy. Here’s how it looks:
As mentioned earlier, if you have the Google Santa Tracker app for Android, you can send Santa’s location to a Chromecast device or Android TV unit (such as Nexus Player). Just tap the Chromecast icon at the top of the app. Here’s how it looks on TV:
I love this. It’s a great way to stay updated on Santa’s progress without running to a computer or smartphone.
Yes, Santa tracking can be done through social media. NORAD provides updates on Santa’s location through the following services:
Here’s an example of how updates look on Twitter:
In the past, Google has done updates on Santa’s progress through its Google Maps social accounts. So far, that hasn’t happened this year. But in case it does return as Christmas Eve progresses, here are the accounts to watch:
If you’re looking for low-tech ways to track Santa, you can send an email to email@example.com. You should get an answer back telling you his current location.
You can also make a phone call to NORAD, the way the whole thing started. The number is 1-877-HI-NORAD (or 1-877-446-6723). If the line is busy, you might be told to call back or hear a recorded message asking you to wait. Eventually, a real person will answer, usually a military volunteer giving up Christmas Eve to provide an update.
That covers the trackers. While you’re waiting for Santa to arrive, if you want something fun to do, try printing out the special Google logos of paperhouses that are running and make them yourself. Google’s provided special templates, as covered more in our other story: ‘Tis The Season! For Holiday Google Doodles Of Papercraft Models & Cutouts.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us here at Search Engine Land!
The post Where’s Santa Claus? Your 2015 Guide To NORAD Tracks Santa & Google’s Santa Tracker appeared first on Search Engine Land.