Christmas season websites—A guide.

By Ty Burr
Updated December 19, 1997 at 05:00 AM EST

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus in cyberspace. There are, in fact, dozens of websites devoted to the Fat Man, and most of them do a nice job of passing themselves off as the North Pole’s Official Home Page. Preselect one, tell your progeny it’s the real deal, share a lovely little experience as they send their E-mail off to Santa and celebrate his form-letter response, and you’ve done your job.

Unless you want them to grok any deeper meanings about Christmas, in which case you’ll have to click further. And it may be that for all that the Internet has brought traditional wassail into the Digital Age, the spirit of this holiday can’t be translated into 1s and 0s. There are Xmas sites galore, but they cluster about the essence like colored lights on a vaguely outlined Douglas fir.

The most disposable are those websites that present Santa as the patron saint of Gimme. Some are nice (the straightforward SantaClaus.com at http://www.santaclaus.com offers a Charity of the Day link, while the warm Homepage for the Holidays at http://www.merry-christmas.com lets you create a personalized Christmas story for your child) and some are naughty (Santas.com, at http://www.santas.com, is a welter of random ad links and missing content, while North-Pole.Org at http://www.north-pole.org will startle kiddies with the news that it’s up for sale). Most, however, are blandly commercial, with the same pleasant but shallow mix of holiday recipes, international traditions, games, obnoxious MIDI carols, and the all-important E-mail form (many sites promise a reply within a week). Beware of wolves in Santa suits, though: Claus.com (http://www.claus.com) has spiffy animation but ”click the big door that says Christmas” and you’re dumped at gift purveyor Service Merchandise’s online store.

Other pages get closer to the core meaning of Christmas while still celebrating loot dispersal. Nice-guy accounting consultant Roger Pollard takes wish lists from kids and posts them for their parents to see at Santa’s Page (http://www.geocities.com/ ~rhpollard/santas_ page97.html)—especially cute is the girl from Turin, Italy, who wants a ”macchina da scrivere di Barbie.” And Citius Development of Arlington, Tex., has a hilarious piece of PC-only shareware called Tracking Santa: Download it from http://www.eaze.net/~citius/santa.htm and your kids can follow Saint Nick’s travels around the globe on Christmas Eve, complete with satellite views and customizable stopovers.

But maybe you’re Santa’ed out already. Fair enough: The X-Mas Times (http://www.stinky comics.com/xmas/), with its scurrilous news stories about the big guy’s stay at the Betty Ford Center, may be just your lump of coal. At the other end of the spectrum, and much closer to the heart of the matter, is Christmas in Cyberspace (members.aol.com/churchweb/christmas), a low-key Christian site that displays prominent ”No Santa/No Frosty” symbols. It’s primarily a links page, but the links—to sites specializing in holiday history, traditions, music, drama, and online advent calendars—are varied and nicely organized (heck, it even takes you to a Bethlehem site in Israel). If that’s too sectarian for you, A Search for the Meaning of Christmas (http://www.techdirect. com/christmas) features links to classic Xmas stories, poems and carols, holiday pages around the world—and a good number of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah sites. And if that’s still too denominational, check out the elegantly fascinating Ancient Origins of the Holidays at http://www.candlegrove.com, which traces modern holiday traditions back through the birth of Christ to early yule, Saturnalia, and solstice rituals.

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