Where’s Santa Claus? When will Father Christmas arrive? Millions of children around the world are asking these and similar questions on Christmas Eve. To help, two there are two great services that stand ready: NORAD Tracks Santa and Google Santa Tracker.
As usual, Search Engine Land stands ready with its own tradition, to guide you to get the best from the services. Below, discover how to track Santa whether you’re using the web, a smartphone, watching TV or even if you want to make a voice telephone call.
The Santa trackers & how they began
There are many Santa tracking services out there, but we recommend the two below for 2016 as both are dependable, safe and will serve you well:
How did NORAD and Google get into the Santa tracking business It began with NORAD and a wrong phone number in this ad:
The ad with phone number misprint that got NORAD tracking Santa Claus (source: NORAD)
NORAD is the acronym for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint US-Canadian military operation. NORAD has been tracking Jolly Old St. Nick for 61 years now.
It began in 1955, due to a mistake. A Sears store printed the wrong telephone number to call Santa in the ad shown above. That number rang the headquarters of NORAD’s predecessor, CONAD. The military group responded by giving updates on Santa’s whereabouts, a tradition that’s been going on ever since.
Google got involved with tracking Santa in 2004. First, it began on its own within Google Earth. From 2007 through 2011, NORAD and Google worked together to spot Father Christmas. In 2012, Google went back out on its own, and Microsoft became NORAD’s partner.
You can read more about Google’s Santa-tracking history in our article from last year: How Google Became A Santa Tracker Tradition To Rival NORAD.
How to search for Santa Claus
There’s a super easy way to find the location of Santa Claus. Just search for “Santa” on Google, and a box will appear at the top of the page:
Click on the link in the box, and you’ll be taken to Google’s Santa Tracker, where Santa’s location can be found. More details about that are below.
Last year, you could search for “Where’s Santa” on Microsoft’s Bing search engine and get his current location. That doesn’t work this year.
Search by voice
You can also use Google Now, the Google search app or Google Assistant to find Santa by voice. Just say “Santa” to get a result that reports his actual location. Here’s how the first two look when you do this, followed by the Google Assistant version:
This also works for those with Google Home if you ask “Where’s Santa,” as demonstrated further below.
Supposedly, Microsoft Cortana will show Santa’s location if you ask “where is Santa,” as one of the Cortana team members tweeted below:
— rob margel (@robmargel) December 24, 2016
However, I can’t get that to work on my iPhone, Windows Phone or Windows desktop. On the phones, Cortana suggests visiting NORAD. On desktop, it gave me videos.
As for Apple Siri, it just jokes about Santa being either at the North Pole or at his beach house.
Finding Santa on a map, via the web
At NORAD, a 3D view of where Santa is currently located will appear:
At the top of the screen, you’ll see where he was last spotted, where he’s going and an estimated number of gifts delivered. You can use your mouse to click and drag to rotate the scene. Buttons in the top right allow you to zoom in and out.
Google has a similar map:
Google’s map displays where Santa is currently and maps his previous locations. If you scroll down, below the map you’ll find more about his distance from you, gifts delivered and Santa’s next stops.
Why do trackers show Santa in different places?
Some kids might be confused if they check both trackers find that Kris Kringle seems to be in different locations at the same time. How is this possible?
One reason is because NORAD depends more on radar and satellites to watch for Santa, while Google depends more on updates from wifi hot spots and cell phone towers. That can lead to some delays and differences. For more about this, see our more detailed story from 2013: Santa Tracking Explained: Why NORAD & Google Show Different Locations & Gifts Delivered.
The bigger reason is that Santa Claus is lightning fast. By the time he’s located in one spot, in a blink of an eye, he’s moved on to the next. That’s why when it’s bedtime, children really should get right to sleep. Santa could appear at any moment!
Where has Santa been?
The maps at Google and NORAD allow you to see all the places that Santa has already visited. Not all locations are shown. Santa visits everywhere. Showing every locaton would make the map too crowded! If you don’t see your own place, don’t panic. Santa has either already visited or will be soon.
At NORAD, to find where Santa Claus has been, use the 2D/3D button at the top right to reveal a 2D view of the world. The icons on the map show where Santa was previously spotted. Click on a camera icon, and search results from Wikipedia about the place will appear (last year, these were results from Bing).
Video camera icons should bring up actual video of Santa flying over locations. You can also click on the video camera icon in the top left to center the map around where Santa’s currently at:
As explained earlier, Google’s map will show all the places Santa’s been by default. Last year, you could click on any previous location to learn more about it. That no longer works, this year.
NORAD’s Santa Cam video
My favorite feature from the Santa tracking services is NORAD’s Santa Cam videos. These show Santa flying over landmarks in different cities around the world. Here is a screen shot of him flying over Sydney this year:
Here’s the actual video:
To see all the Santa Cam videos currently posted, click on the “Movies” link at the top of the NORAD site. That will open up a window with a video playlist.
NORAD also has a YouTube channel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t list its Santa Cam videos there, even though they are hosted on YouTube. Instead, you can only discover the latest ones through the NORAD site.
Google has video clips, but they don’t show Santa in flight, nor are they specific to any location.
Santa tracking apps
Yes, you can track Santa via app. NORAD offers them for Windows, iOS and Android:
All the apps do is take you to the NORAD site on the web, however. So, you can just go there in your mobile web browser and have the same experience, app-free.
Google only offers an app for its Santa tracker on Android, which provides basic tracking information. Google’s app also offers the ability to cast Santa’s location to a Chromecast-enabled device, which is nice. More on this is explained below.
Google also offers a browser extension for Chrome that puts an icon in the top right of your browser for instant access to Santa’s location. It’s very handy. Here’s how it looks:
Tracking Santa on TV with Chromecast
As noted earlier, if you have the Google Santa Tracker app for Android, you can send Santa’s location to a Chromecast-enabled device. Just select the Chromecast icon at the top of the app:
I had a little trouble getting it going on my TV this year. I had to restart the app a couple of times. It’s nice when it appears, though I miss the format last year that showed both current location and the time until Santa arrives in your location.
Tracking Santa through social media
Here’s an example of an update on Twitter:
Helsinki–Santa will be over Finland soon! pic.twitter.com/XC8dmHM5YZ
— NORAD Santa (@NoradSanta) December 24, 2016
Two years ago, Google provided updates via social media through its Google Maps accounts. Last year, it stopped. It hasn’t retuned this year with them, either.
Santa’s whereabouts with Google Home
Do you have Google Home voice assistant? Just ask “Where’s Santa,” and you’ll get one of several fun introductions along with his current location. Sorry, Amazon Echo owners. Alexa doesn’t provide a location. Here’s a side-by-side demo:
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 24, 2016
Here’s another of Google Home’s responses, with cool modem sounds:
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 24, 2016
Santa’s Location by email or voice phone call
Want an email update on Santa’s location? Just message to email@example.com. You should get a response telling you his current location.
You can also make a voice telephone call to NORAD, just like how the whole Santa tracking thing started.
The number is 1-877-HI-NORAD (or 1-877-446-6723). If the line is busy, you may be told to call back or get a recording telling you to wait. Eventually, a real person will answer, usually a military volunteer giving up Christmas Eve to provide an update, including an estimated time of arrival at your location. Here’s an example of a call:
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) December 25, 2016
Be sure to wish the volunteer a Merry Christmas!
And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us here at Search Engine Land!
Note: This story was updated throughout the day to add some examples of Santa tracking in action.