'Twas the day before Christmas, and all through your house, Cyber Claus will pop up, with just a click of a mouse.
In an era of Twitter, Facebook, iPhones and YouTube, old St. Nick must feel really old.
Cyber Claus, on the other hand, knows how to text, tweet, e-mail and use a cell phone. He's even hanging out on Facebook. (Though Mr. Jelly Belly is smart enough to avoid playing Farmville and Mafia Wars. Those time-suckers are strictly for the naughty boys and girls.)
If your kids are looking for a little instantaneous Christmas cheer, here are a few places to turn:
The North American Aerospace Defense Command began tracking Santa in 1955, back when a department store claimed to know Santa's whereabouts and petitioned kids to call. Unfortunately, it gave out the defense command's number by mistake.
No worries. The organization decided to take the calls, and 50-odd years later, the process now uses Internet technology, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook to help keep an eye on Santa.
Last year, the Colorado Springs command center needed 100 phones and 25 computers to follow Santa on Christmas Eve.
The service remains free.
Portable North Pole
This free service allows parents to create a personalized video message from Santa to their children. First, complete an online questionnaire about your child (and add a photo if you want). The Portable North Pole will then create an online video and a map showing Santa's route from the North Pole to your home. Santa also mentions your kid's name and goes over what he or she wants for Christmas.
"Santa shows where you live, mentions your child's age, the color of his hair, the good things he's done and the bad things he's done," said Alexandre Berard, chief executive of a Canadian Web video company that launched the Portable North Pole. The service served 1.5 million users in Canada during its launch last year and started up in the United States on Nov. 30.
Chat With Santa
Who wants to deal with parking at the mall and standing in a never-ending line to sit on Santa's lap? Surf over to ChatWithSanta.com, where children can listen to stories from Santa, talk and even play games with the jolly old elf.
The service isn't free, though. A "day pass" can be purchased for $2.95, with part of the proceeds going to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, according to the Web site.
"It's a timely way to give parents a way around from saying, 'Oh, my gosh, should I take my kids to a place that's a hotbed for colds and flu?' " said Mark Winder of INSINC, the Canadian company that originally developed the service as an in-house treat for employees' children.
Are the children nestled all snug in their beds while visions of text messages dance in their heads? "Hey, little jimmy, its your BFF stclaus! b good and ul have a gr8 xmas!"
Yikes! That's more frightening than next month's Visa bill. Starting at $3.99, TextSanta sends children three personalized text messages from Santa (once they're registered by an adult).
Santa on Facebook
Go to the popular social networking site and search for "Santa Claus," and several options will pop up. One fan page called "I Believe In Santa Claus" has more than 235,000 members.
Fans are encouraged to share stories of favorite Christmas gifts they've received and to drop off their wish lists. Sure, there are a few dubious links to "free" gifts, but that's the Internet for you.
Santa on Twitter
Of course, Santa is on Twitter — in several places. His @SantaClaus has more than 11,000 followers, most of whom are probably disappointed that he hasn't tweeted since Thanksgiving.
However, @Santaclaus25 is pretty active, boasting more than 12,000 followers and fun updates, such as this one from earlier this week: "Elf Eddie just called from the Sleigh Shop, he is getting the sleigh ready and wants to know if I want something called a GPS ????"
Santa on iPhone
Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus application for your iPhone. Check out SantaMessage2U, an app that allows parents to record a personalized message, convert it into the baritone voice of Santa and send it to the kids. It sells for $1.99. Obviously, you need an iPhone to make it work.
SantaMessage2U was created by Alissa Owen, a stay-at-home mom from Sandy, Utah, who spent about $2,500 creating the app with the help of a London-based Web developer.
The mother of four said the device connects with Web-savvy kids in a way that traditional Santas can't. "My neighbor's son, a third-grader, said that he didn't believe in Santa anymore," Owen said. "And his parents sent him a Santa message that said that if he didn't exist, 'how would Santa know that you hide your dirty clothes in your closet?' "
This report contains material from the Baltimore Sun, Associated Press and Yahoo's Buzz.