Santa gets wired

Visiting Santa in the mall? Sending snail mail to the North Pole? Looking out the window for the sleigh? You don't have to rely on these low-tech holiday traditions: Even Santa Claus is wired now.

Want to know how close Santa is to your house? Several sites let you track his progress on Christmas Eve.

The most famous of these is NORAD, also known as the North American Aerospace Defense Command. This agency spends most of the year using its radar and satellite systems to protect the United States and Canada from missile launches. But on Christmas Eve the agency devotes its time to tracking Santa around the globe.

The legend goes that in 1955, the phone number for a Santa hotline contained a typo and instead directed callers to the Continental Air Defense Command. Staffers at the agency, which later became NORAD, gamely answered children's calls and volunteered to use their equipment to track the position of Santa's sleigh.

Tracking doesn't begin until Christmas Eve, but the site is live now and can tell you what tools you'll need to watch and wait for St. Nick. And on Christmas Eve, you can progress of the reindeer-drawn sleigh with the help of "Santa Cams" around the globe. This year, one of the "celebrity trackers" is ex-Beatle Ringo Starr.

Claus.com also offers a Santa Spotter. The site's Santa Monitor tells you where in the world Santa is, and its Santa Scope shows when he's approaching your house.

Making a list

Before Santa arrives, you'll want to let him know what's on your list. Several sites put you in touch with the big guy himself.

EmailSanta lets you write to Santa using an automated form (you can add your own comments, as well). SantaClaus.com goes a step further, promising a reply message. A sample reply posted on the site shows that, while the response won't necessarily be personalized, the site's computers make sure it gets to you quickly.

Santa's E-Mail Page also provides a form letter that you can send off to Santa. It lets you tell Santa whether you've been good, pretty good, or as good as you could be -- how honest you are is up to you.

Holiday history

Now that you're been in touch with Santa, you could use the Web to find out all about him. For example, did you know that the legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas?

NorthPoleSantaClaus.com will fill you in on his history, and how he came to be the jolly old fellow we all know today.

More information on the story of St. Nicholas can be found at HistoryChannel.com. This site offers numerous holiday resources, including world traditions, the real story of Christmas, the evolution of Santa Claus, and the history of the Christmas tree (including information about the famous tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City).

If these history lessons get you humming some holiday tunes, head over to Santa.net and go caroling at your PC. The site offers a holiday sing-along to your favorite seasonal tunes: It provides the music; you provide the singing.

Finally, to get in the Christmas spirit, head over to NorthPoleSantaClaus.com to read the famous editorial from the New York Sun, "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus." This site reprints the text of the letter written by eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon and the reply printed in the newspaper. It's enough to make even Scrooge believe in Santa.

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Liane Cassavoy

PC World
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