Parents

From selfies to Santa trackers: 7 apps that help keep Christmas magic alive

It's the question parents dread hearing at Christmas time: Is there really a Santa Claus?

As a child gets older, comments from classmates who know too much can plant a seed of holiday doubt in their mind. But, for parents, a visit to the app store or a bit of Photoshop creativity can be just the thing to help restore their little one's belief in the man in the red suit.

This year, TODAY talked to crafty parents, enterprising app creators and professional Santa trackers to find out the best ways to keep Christmas magic going in your home for years to come.

1. NORAD Santa Tracker

For more than 60 years, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been tracking Santa's whereabouts on Christmas Eve using a myriad of data collection tools, ranging from satellites to jet fighters. The 2016 NORAD Tracks Santa website and apps will go live on December 1, offering a Christmas countdown, games and other activities, in addition to NORAD's iconic reports on Santa's travels come December 24.

According to Lieutenant Marco Chouinard, the NORAD Tracks Santa spokesperson, more than 1,500 volunteers help NORAD track Santa over a 23-hour period on Christmas Eve.

NORAD Tracks Santa
More than 1,500 volunteers gather on Christmas Eve to help with NORAD's tracking of Santa's flight each year.

Chouinard says NORAD is often asked how Santa manages to deliver gifts to the entire world in a 24-hour time period — his answer involves a bit of Christmas time travel.

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"NORAD intelligence reports indicate that Santa does not experience time the way we do," Chouinard told TODAY Parents. "Santa would not want to rush the important job of delivering presents to children and spreading joy to everyone, so the only logical conclusion is that Santa somehow functions within his own time-space continuum."

NORAD Tracks Santa
The NORAD Santa Tracker website shows kids where Santa is traveling to on Christmas Eve.

2. Portable North Pole

Through the Portable North Pole (PNP) app and website, parents can send their kids personalized videos direct from the North Pole. Video messages are free, but for an additional fee parents can buy their child more detailed personalizations, views of Santa's village and news of whether they are on the naughty or nice list this year.

Portable North Pole
With the Portable North Pole (PNP) app, parents can send their kids personalized videos from Santa.

3. Catch A Character

Show your kids proof that Santa was in their home with Catch A Character — an app that allows parents to create free photos using images of their own home, along with stock images of Santa Claus. Santa can be shown placing presents beneath the Christmas tree, checking his list, or even looking shocked to be caught on camera. To help parents keep holiday magic going year-round, the app also offers similar photos of the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

Terri Peters|CatchACharacter.com
Catch A Character allows parents to add Santa to photos taken in their own homes.

4. Naughty or Nice Certificates

A simple search on Etsy will provide parents with the tool they need to prove to their kids that Santa is always watching. Certificates stating whether a particular child has been deemed "naughty" or "nice" by the man in red can be purchased, personalized and printed from home.

Simona Kebakovski, a mom from Australia who sells a version of the certificates in her Etsy shop, created the certificate last Christmas for her 4-year-old daughter, after she wrote a letter to Santa telling him what she wanted for Christmas and promising to be nice.

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"I printed the certificate and popped it into our letter box when she was sleeping," Kebakovski told TODAY Parents in an email. "In the morning, she was so excited — running to the letter box to see if Santa had written to her. When she saw the certificate she was so excited."

Kebakovski created a certificate, sold in her Etsy shop, that lets kids know whether they've landed on the naughty list or the nice list.

5. Santa's Magic Phone

Parents who download the Santa's Magic Phone app can let their kids call or text message Santa, or contact Santa themselves to report their kids' good or bad behavior. And, parents can choose the nature of Santa's "calls," from telling a kid they have been taken off the naughty list to congratulating a child on being polite.

Santa's Magic Phone
Santa's Magic Phone is an app that lets kids call and text with Santa Claus.

6. Reroute Santa

In a survey conducted by vacation rental company HomeAway, 42 percent of kids who travel at the holidays said they were concerned about whether or not Santa would be able to find them at their vacation spot.

Thankfully, on the Reroute Santa website, kids can tell Santa where they live, where they are traveling to at Christmas, and receive a letter back from Santa confirming that he has made a note of where they will be on the big day.

RerouteSanta.com
With the Reroute Santa website, kids can tell Santa of any holiday travel plans, and receive confirmation that Santa knows where to find them on Christmas Eve.

7. Get Creative

Many parents told TODAY of their own creative ways of using technology to keep kids believing in Santa. Jonathan Murray, who vlogs with his family on YouTube, says wife Danielle recently saved his phone number in her cell phone along with a photo of Santa. When their daughters misbehave, Danielle calls her husband, pretending to be speaking with Santa about their poor behavior.

"She usually only uses it when they're not listening," said Murray. "They get so upset when she calls it."

Brenna Jennings, who blogs at Suburban Snapshots, put her Photoshop skills to good use last year, when she created a Santa "selfie" on her daughter's iPad, leading her 8 year old to think Santa had snapped a quick photo while delivering presents.

Brenna Jennings
Brenna Jennings created a "Santa selfie" using Photoshop, leading her daughter to think Santa stopped to snap a photo while delivering gifts.

Jennings says her daughter wrote a letter to Santa, asking that he take a selfie while visiting her home. Since she has always embraced technology in her parenting, Jennings was happy to oblige.

"It was either spend ten minutes making a fake note from Santa explaining why he couldn't leave a selfie, or just make [it] in Photoshop," said Jennings. "I work in the program every day, so I opted for the more fun option. She loved it and texted it to all three people in her contacts list."

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