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.
With advice from crafty parents, enterprising app creators and professional Santa trackers, TODAY Parents discovered 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 2019 NORAD Tracks Santa website and app each offer 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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.
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" 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 her certificate a few Christmases ago for her then-4-year-old daughter, after she wrote a letter to Santa telling him what she wanted for Christmas and promising to be nice.
"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."
5. Message from Santa
Parents who download the Magic from Santa app get unlimited personalized calls from Santa and can surprise their child with video messages straight from the North Pole. Kids can also leave Santa special voicemail messages or hold a text conversation with him.
6. Santa Cam Ornament
Hanging a "Santa Cam" ornament on your Christmas tree is a great way to convince kids of all ages that they're being watched by the North Pole. There's tons of different handmade versions of this type of ornament on Etsy, from flashy silver baubles to ones that come with a cute note from Santa himself.
7. Santa's License
Convince your kids that Santa dropped his sleigh-operating license in your home while delivering gifts on Christmas eve with these creative and realistic-looking driver's licenses from Santa's License, featuring the official seal of the North Pole Department of Public Safety, along with all of Mr. Claus' identifying information.
8. Find the Scout Elves App
If your house gets taken over by red-suited scout elves during the holidays, there's a chance your kids have questioned whether or not their Elf on the Shelf really heads back to the North Pole every night to visit with Santa Claus. Get kids involved playing games with scout elves, earning certificates for their hard work and, most importantly, watching a video message from Santa about how he trains his elves with the Find the Scout Elves app.
9. Get Creative
Many parents told TODAY Parents 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 a few years ago, when she created a Santa "selfie" on her daughter's iPad, leading her then-eight-year-old daughter to think Santa had snapped a quick photo while delivering presents.
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. "She loved it and texted it to all three people in her contacts list."