Type of site
|Santa tracking simulation, education and entertainment website|
|Launched||December 1, 2004|
Google Santa Tracker is an annual Christmas-themed entertainment program first launched in 2004 by Google, Inc. that simulates the tracking of the legendary character Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and before that also allows users to play, watch, and learn through little activities that are added daily in December. It was inspired by NORAD Tracks Santa, which has operated since 1955.
In early 2004, Google saw the NORAD Tracks Santa service and said they "felt like it could be better for users to 'visualize' where Santa is currently at". So, in 2004, after Keyhole, Inc. was acquired by Google, they followed Santa in the "Keyhole Earth Viewer" (Google Earth's original name) and called it the "Keyhole Santa Radar". The audience was small due to Keyhole being a paid product.
In 2018, the Santa Tracker added several features for students and educators. On December 4, 2018, the website fully launched a suite of games and lesson plans about coding basics and Christmas traditions around the world. The site also features information about nonprofit organizations Khan Academy and Code.org. The 2018 Google Santa Tracker page also allowed users to use the Google Assistant to call Santa or listen to a Christmas story. The website had 42.2 million visitors in December of that year. The website reported that Santa had delivered 5.6 billion presents in 2019.
In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Santa, Mrs. Claus and the Elves are depicted as wearing face masks.
Every Christmas Eve, the Google Santa Tracker begins to simulate tracking of Santa at about midnight in the furthest east time zone, about 10 AM UTC. The map shows Santa alternating between traveling and handing out presents in cities. Santa appears to travel approximately one time zone west per hour. Counters, which show fake data, simulate to viewers how far Santa has traveled so far, how long until he reaches the viewer's city on the map, the distance from the viewer's city, and the total number of presents delivered. Santa is depicted as having helpers with him, including the standard reindeer and elves, along with penguins and a snowman.
For each city that Santa is said to visit, the first few paragraphs of the corresponding Wikipedia article are shown, giving an overview of the city. The website also shows photos with the city in the background and Santa or his helpers in the foreground. The temperature of the city is accurately given using data from The Weather Channel. Not every large city is visited; some large cities close to other large cities are skipped, while smaller cities that are far from any other populated place are occasionally featured. Even when Santa is traveling, the counter showing the total presents delivered increases, but at a slower rate than when Santa is in a city.
The 2016 site also featured other pictures that labeled "This Just In". These resembled photos taken on social media websites, and the photos were usually of Santa and his helpers doing various things, including Santa and his helpers imitating the cover of Abbey Road, Santa delivering presents, and Santa and an elf taking a selfie. Users can also watch videos and play games.
The Santa Tracker is locked until December 24. However, site visitors can interact with the games and lesson plans in Santa's Village throughout the year.
The website's simulation of Santa's route differs from that of NORAD Tracks Santa, hence the two websites show that Santa appears to be in two different locations at the same time.