A 21st century Christmas Eve

Just a couple of presents this year ...

The kids are asleep. My parents and brother have been fed. Our new tree has disappeared under a multicoloured avalanche of presents. And the Baileys has been cracked open. Bring it on, Christmas – we’re ready for you!

Just a couple of presents this year ...
Just a couple of presents this year …

In some ways we take a traditional approach to Christmas. Family: tick. Putting out a mince pie and carrots for Santa and his reindeer: tick. More food for two days than we would normally need for two weeks: tick.

In other respects, though, we have a distinctly twenty-first century approach to the festive season.

Probably 95% of our Christmas shopping has been done online, from presents to food. The last thing I need is the stress of fighting to get all three kids into the car so I can fight over the last space in the car park on a squally afternoon and then fight over the last toy in a shop which is 20% more expensive than I can buy it for online anyway. Instead I can order at leisure in the evening and wait for everything to be delivered, thank you very much.

That modern approach extends to the kids too, the boys in particular. Sure, there are the hand-written letters to Santa, but Isaac has also been badgering me for his email address for a couple of years now. He’s been told it’s only handed out to grown-ups so we can warn him if he needs to move them from the nice list to the naughty one. (It’s probably only a matter of time before he follows Santa on Twitter and starts perusing his Pinterest boards too.)

That’s not to say the boys don’t communicate with Santa at all, though. There was a time when a child could send a letter to Santa Claus at the North Pole and receive a posted reply*. That’s oh so last millennium, though. These days a parent can (for a small fee) use an online service such as Portable North Pole to create a video message from Santa personalised with their child’s name, their age, what they’d like to receive and so on. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and the boys absolutely lap it up.

And then on Christmas Eve itself the boys are glued to the NORAD Santa Tracker website and iPhone app. They will spend the afternoon tracking Santa’s movements as he traverses the globe from east to west, starting in New Zealand and dropping off presents with relatives in Australia and Malaysia en route to the all-important stop in Thatcham. (Santa is the small red-hatted blob on the northern coast of Poland in the picture below, taken at 10:45pm UK time.)

It's like Where's Wally, but you can only play it once a year ...
It’s like Where’s Wally, but you can only play it once a year …

Isaac, being his usual inquisitive, need-to-know-it-all self, is upping the level of interrogation with each passing year. 2013’s questions (with my answers in brackets) included:

  • How does Santa know where to go? (He uses a sat-nav system with a complex route-plotting AI algorithm which computes the fastest route to take.)
  • How fast does his sleigh travel? (I have another app on my phone which also plots his current speed and his total distance covered since departing the North Pole.)
  • If Mummy or Daddy threatens to move him from the nice list to the naughty one at the last minute, how will Santa know? (Having finished their work building toys and loading up the sleigh, Santa’s elves spend Christmas Eve monitoring emails and other social media for last-minute changes (parents use hashtags such as #naughtylist). They then relay any updates to the AI route-plotting software on Santa’s sleigh, which of course has had state-of-the-art wifi installed. And a 52-inch HD TV so that Santa can watch the football in between deliveries.)
  • How does Santa get into the house via our tiny fireplace? (Remember what happened to Alice in Wonderland? That.)
  • How does Santa eat all those mince pies people leave for him? (Well, he is quite overweight and he has to go on a diet for the other 364 days of the year.)

It’s actually quite fun, and I’m going to miss the day – which I fear is coming very soon – when he ceases to believe in Santa Claus. For now, though, it’s 11:30pm and if previous years are anything to go by I’m expecting the kids to be up by 4:30am. So on that note I will bid you goodnight and wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

* The response actually came from a dedicated Royal Mail team in Belfast. I’m not sure if they still do it – I suspect not.