Ah, Christmastime – one of the best times of year to get out of the house and find kid events near you. That is unless you’re like us and stuck at home (sick) for the holidays (boooo). But fret not – here are a few virtual options to get into the Christmas spirit from the couch.
Between virtual Selfies with Santa to NORAD’s age-old Santa Tracker (now w/ digital enhancements!), read on for a few fun sites that offer kiddo holiday home fun in 2022.
NORAD Tracks Santa Hotline
First, let’s talk about the most famous one.
For the last 65 years, the United States government has used satellites and radar for its super special NORAD Tracks Santa mission every Dec. 24.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), normally works to give the U.S. and Canada aerospace and maritime warnings from its headquarters in Colorado Springs.
But for one special occasion, the night before Christmas, volunteers stationed at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operation Center answer more than 130,000 calls to its Santa Hotline from more than 200 countries around the world
- ☎️ 📱 Reach the call center at 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723).
Track Santa Online
Not a big phone person? Beginning at 2 a.m. MST on Dec. 24, you can track Santa himself LIVE from NORAD across the internet. (Its official Online Santa Tracker website goes dark after Christmas, but you can visit its Santa Tracker Newsroom any time of year.)
NORAD also runs the following social channels:
I’m happy to say that call centers with IRL humans on the other end of the line are not yet obsolete. I think that’s really cool. But with mini-games, stories, videos, and (our fave) Christmas music to share, everyone’s ideal tracker experience is covered on the official website with its full selection of online content designed for kids.
Talk to Alexa
Amazon Alexa also has your back this season with skills parents can enable for everyone in the fam to keep tabs of Santa’s location. To launch it, open the Amazon Alexa app and search for “NORAD Tracks Santa” in the Skills & Games section. Then try these phrases:
“Alexa, where’s Santa?”
“Alexa, call Santa.”
There’s an option to leave him a voicemail!
Borrowing NPR’s 2014 headline: “NORAD’s Santa Tracker Began With a Typo and a Good Sport,” here’s the story of how the country’s official Santa tracker came to be
Eyes were on the skies in 1955 when Sears department store placed a local newspaper ad telling kids the store had an exclusive line for Santa Claus himself. One quick-handed little kid was the first to ring him up but, with one digit printed incorrectly, the pint-sized caller reached the unlisted work number for Air Force Col. Harry Shoup instead.
The commander was quick to realize the mistake and assured the child he was Santa.
Three years later, Shoup and his team developed a full-scale Santa Tracking program – a beloved tradition that’s gone on for decades.
Santaland At Home + Virtual Photos With Santa
Santaland at Home is a free online Santa’s Workshop interactive experience hosted by another department store, Macy’s, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 24.
The online experience features scripts, videos, and a clickable map of cozy cabins, holiday houses, and a candy-cane-striped factory where free activities await.
As the story goes, kids enter a magical snow globe portal that whisks them away to
Santa’s Village where a nice elf pops up and talks them to relay all the options, settings and activities to do.
Kids can choose to decorate the Christmas tree, take a pic with Santa, sit down for storytime, and more.
I signed in myself (without the kids – haha) and went through the motions to get the lay of the land.
Tonya in SantaLand
The program is free with registration, there are no reservations needed, and technical support is available by emailing SantalandSupport@macys.com.
To access the site, a supervising adult must create a free account to the site and set up camera permissions in order for their kids to explore. I suggest parents set all that up before your kids are right at your side because it does cause a brief (and boring) delay. Unfortunately, you really do have to register. It looks like you don’t have to register at first but then eventually you do (I know, I tried lol).
During registration, you choose which Santa you want to see (Black, Caucasian, Spanish Speaking). I see here that only three choices are pictured and it would be nice if there are more choices in the list! When you go, report back and let me know.
Virtual Santa Selfie
First up: meet the big guy. The Santa visits aren’t live but offer pre-recorded video that runs pretty seamlessly with short pauses to give kids a chance to reply back.
Once you’re in, find Santa’s Workshop on the map and click on it to go inside.
To take your Santa pic, follow the prompts. When you’re done, but BEFORE you ‘X’ out of the feature, make sure to tap the SAVE TO DEVICE button in the lower left to save your Santa Photo bc the image won’t save to your account! (So whyyy do we need an account again??) and the program also doesn’t email it to you.
Here’s an example of my Pneumonia/No Makeup Tonya + Santa Photo, where I choose between one of four backdrops to cover up all the used tissues and blankets on my couch. I grabbed the kids’ Santa hat because I haven’t done my hair in 16 days. I mean … I’m wearing it to be festive of course!
Essentially, the photo works when Santa “takes a selfie” in the program and then you take a selfie separately IRL in front of your computer, and then Santaland magically pairs the two images together. Santa’s size and chair location is a fixed position, so I suggest you move your screen far away before clicking your own selfie so you’re not huge like my closeup beside him.
Santaland’s Printable Toy Workshop Expert Certificate
Next, I snagged my official “Toy Painter” certificate pdf from Santa’s Workshop.
My parents will be so proud. 🙂
There were games and stuff, too, but I was all selfied up and ready for Nyquil and a nap.
Overall, I think Santaland At Home is a cute feature that at least gets your kids next to Santa in a photo compared to not having a photo at all if you too are attacked by germ bugs that caused you to miss your token Mall Santa.
Snowball Fight Game With Snowy The Mouse
Elsewhere online (outside of Santaland), you can play a snowball fight game and other activities here with Snowy the Mouse.
It took some digging because the site’s social icons link back to closed accounts but Snowy appears to be the character in the (new?) children’s book, “Snowy’s Magical Christmas Eve” written for kids ages 2 to 8 by lifestyle blogger Susie Bramhall (looks like she wrote the site’s recipe and craft posts too). Snowy’s website says its content and games will stay up all year + feature activities for other holidays like Valentine’s and Easter.
And there you have it! It’s no fun to be sick around the holidays (or ever) but I hope these holiday activities for kids online help make your season of colds and germs just a little merrier!