It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and we’re getting into the festive spirit here at TechRadar! While it’s still fairly early for Santa to make moves, we’ve got a direct line to his workshop and are here to bring you the latest festive updates as we approach the holiday.
St Nick will be departing on his trip around the globe in just a few hours, starting at the International Date Line on December 24 and moving through the South Pacific, then across to New Zealand and Australia, followed by Asia, Africa, Europe, North Amerca and lastly Central and South America. We’ll be tracking all of his movements around the globe live using the two most popular trackers, NORAD and Google, we’ll be bringing you live updates as St Nick makes his way around the globe.
In keeping with the ‘AI everywhere’ theme of 2023, we’ve also asked Midjourney to create some images of the big man himself as he travels around the world celebrating various regional traditions. They’re only slightly cursed.
Fun fact: Santa tracking as a tradition is almost 70 years old, but it all started as a happy accident in Christmas 1955. Legend has it a Sears catalog accidentally printed the Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center’s phone number instead of a Santa hotline in Christmas 1955 and began to receive calls from children hoping to speak to Klaus himself.
The tradition of watching where Santa crosses the globe began in 1955 when, legend has it, a child mistakenly called Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center after a misprint in a Sears catalog for a number to call to speak to Santa.
The American military realized this was a PR dream, and began putting out press releases on the whereabouts of Santa each year, with comical stories added in too, with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) taking over. In the early 1980s, a hotline was added to let people call to find out where he is.
Fast forward to today and there are a number of ways to find out what’s happening to Santa – with Google’s Santa Tracker joining the party in 2004 – and these two are the key ones to look out for in our expert opinion.
Santa Tracker: Norad vs Google
You’ve got two main choices when it comes to tracking Santa – both offer different ways of following along, but it depends on the experience you’re looking for.
Norad Santa Tracker
The original way of following Santa and, some would say, the best. This website, run by the US military, fuses gruff colonels presenting a video about Santa Claus with live, up-to-the-minute info on where the man in the big red suit is.
You can download the app on the App Store or Google Play Store, and from there you’ll be presented with a number of mini games to play as well as being able to follow the progress of the present giving live.
It’s a far more rudimentary experience than other trackers out there, lacking a lot of polish and website design.
However, it’s also the most popular and has a heartwarming history behind it – as well as an army of volunteers ready to take your call to find out where Santa is.
NORAD has also added in an AI chatbot called Radar to help you spot Santa too, but if you can be bothered, then dialling +1 (877) HI-NORAD will do the trick too.
Google Santa Tracker
How to play the Santa games on mobile
Every year, when we publish this guide, we have people wondering how to play the games on mobile as the big ‘PLAY!’ button in the middle of the screen sometimes fails and will only ever give you random games or video anyway. Well, just go to the Santa Tracker site on a mobile browser, click the three lines in the top left-hand corner and see all the games to play. (Note – the ‘install’ option, which tells you to ‘Add to Home Screen’, doesn’t work on iPhones).
A more recent addition to the Santa tracking mix, Google’s Santa Tracker has been going since 2004, combining the power of Google Maps with the savvy knowledge of where Father Christmas is.
While Google doesn’t have the same satellite tracking power as NORAD, one has to assume the search giant has struck a deal with the North Pole to figure out where he is in real-time using search and radar and lasers and… stuff. Don’t ask us to interpret the magic.
Backing up the Santa Tracker is a whole host of minigames to play, as well as a month-long website encouraging children to learn to code while they encounter a winter wonderland.
There are some pro-Google tools moments in this Santa Tracker – the Quick Draw game is designed to teach Google’s image recognition Tensor to improve, which feels a bit odd – but it’s a wonderfully designed site and arguably the most visually accessible way to follow Santa.
You can download the app from the Google Play Store, but in our eyes the mobile site is just as good and accessible for iPhone users, plus Google’s Santa Tracker has the best and easiest-to-use desktop experience, too.