It gives me no holiday cheer to report that humbug.com has no associations with the holiday season—nor marleywasdead.com, alas, but I’m sure that’ll get swept up if someone ever decides to make another animated version of A Christmas Carol. (Pixar?)
There are, however, plenty of holiday-themed websites you can use to add a little extra cheer to your season (or kill some time during your days off). While I hesitate to call this the definitive list of useful holiday websites, since someone will surely post a link in the comments about some elf snowball game that captures my interest for half a day, I think this is a pretty solid list that covers most of the things everyone does around this time of year.
Ready? Strap on your Santa hat and let’s begin.
For tracking your Secret Santa gift exchanges
You’ll want to check out Elfster, which comes highly recommended by various internet forum-posters and at least 10 out of 12 reindeer. How many “official reindeer” are there? I feel like it’s eight, but I don’t want to sing the song to check. Anyway, Elfster is completely free to use, so long as you can convince everyone in your “present pool” to sign up for the site. Once you’ve done that, setting up a gift exchange (that ensures you don’t draw yourself by accident) is easy.
For figuring out whether it’s Christmas or not
Well? Is it? Set the website Is It Christmas? as your browser’s home page, and you’ll know immediately when it’s time to badger your friends and loved ones to open presents.
For getting your holiday lighting fix without venturing out
If your loved ones like to drag you out from the comfort of your house into the bitter outdoors to watch someone blind their neighbourhood with an absurd house-lighting display, you might be able to skip the festivities this year if you can convince them that watching lights virtually is just as fun — with none of that pesky weather to ruin the experience. Better still, you don’t have to sit in miles of traffic to get your holiday fix..
For when you don’t have any snow
Speaking of virtual reality, if you want to participate in the youth-tested tradition of an epic snowball fight, but don’t want to get messy or cold — or if you’re in a warmer climate — you can lob ice virtually. Check out Merry Snowballs, a fun little game for the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, as well as Android devices like the Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard. Fire it up and spend hours pelting other (computer) players with virtual slush.
If you’d rather just enjoy a winter wonderland without the thread of a cold sphere nailing you in the noggin, check out Snow Mountain VR for compatible Android devices or the soothing Ice Lakes (for the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, Android, and iOS devices), if you prefer to simulate freezing while fishing.
For those who aren’t good with spatial visualisation
It’s possible you haven’t purchased a tree for your house or apartment yet. If you’ve been putting it off because you’re unsure if you can actually fit a tree in your living space, you can try before you buy using your iPhone.
Pull out your iPhone (running iOS 12), download the Target app, search for “Christmas tree,” scroll down, and tap on the augmented reality feature that allows you to place a virtual tree in your real-world space. As you browse through supported trees, you’ll be able to see how well they fit.
I couldn’t find any AR Christmas trees in Amazon’s app. Trees, yes. Other AR objects, yes. Virtual trees? No.
Wayfair, another popular retailer with “augmented reality” features in its app, had plenty of trees, including those you can drop into your environment virtually. However, the app’s implementation is more of a “see what it looks like” approach. You place, move, and scale the object with your fingers, which doesn’t help you determine if a tree will fit in your space, unfortunately.
For when you have no idea which tree to buy
There are many different kinds of Christmas trees — I prefer the upside-down version myself, but that’s just me. If you’re unsure what to pick up, the aptly named “Pick Your Own Christmas Tree.org” website has a good rundown (and chart) of what you’re getting into with each variant. I’d cross-reference potential picks against the descriptions over at Davey to make sure you aren’t getting something that can’t handle your piles and piles of ornaments. Oh, and don’t forget to water your purchase.
As an alternative, you could say “the heck with it” and project a Christmas tree onto a white bed sheet that you’ve hung in front of your living room window. Or you could code a little tree on your desktop or laptop:
For planning an awesome holiday party
Make your guest list and check it twice: Google Sheets
Brainstorm delicious cocktails, with Claire’s help
Make your shopping list: Out of Milk
Get some nice jams going for the party: Spotify’s Christmas Cocktail Jazz playlist
Figure out how to play that complicated board game with your friends without having to waste thirty minutes reading the instructions: YouTube
Give up and play something better: Jackbox Party Pack (I like #4 and #5.)
Make everyone go home when the party is over like Robert Mueller does
For when you’re lonely
To give yourself (or your kids) a little extra holiday cheer, ask your Amazon Echo device how many days are left for [insert holiday you celebrate]. You can also ask Alexa to “tell me a Christmas story,” which should randomly play one of three tales each time you make the request. And if you’re feeling bold, you can even ask Alexa to “sing me a holiday song.” She’ll even do it in her voice, too. It’s a little weird. And if your heart needs to grow three sizes too big, ask Alexa to tell you about the true meaning of Christmas.
For rewatching the best Christmas movie again and again and
And since you might not see this in the version you’re viewing, here’s a lovely song that was cut from most of the film’s released versions. Humbug.
For rocking out to the best holiday soundtrack ever
For whatever reason, you can find the complete soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas—that delicious jazz from the Vince Guaraldi Trio—streaming over at Archive.org. This doesn’t feel particularly legal, as I don’t recall this album ever skating its way into the public domain, but that’s Archive.org’s problem, not mine. Put this on, throw a log in the fireplace, and relax the holiday break away.
For annoying everyone with nonstop holiday tunes
If your tastes for seasonal music are a bit more universal and you want to blast the holiday jams 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, throughout the entire month of December, you have plenty of options to pick from. You can use radio-locator.com to find stations near you that are serving up nonstop holiday classics. Or, if you’d rather stream your music over the web, try checking out ChristmasFM, which lets you jump between five different holiday streams—an Ireland station, a North Pole station, a Classical station, a Classics station, and a UK station.
If you aren’t much of a holiday music enthusiast, consider compromising with a stream like Soma FM’s Christmas Lounge — a stream full of “chilled holiday grooves and classic winter lounge tracks,” which is a little more palatable than having to hear that annoying rock version of “Carol of the Bells” once an hour.
For pretending you’re in a winter wonderland
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so the concept of “a log burning in the fireplace” and “snow gently falling to the ground” isn’t really something I think about at this time of year — not unless I drive to Tahoe or something. That’s why I enjoy the Snowy Escape website. Like a holiday-themed version of a white noise generator, this simple website gives you an endless loop of a crackling fireplace and snowy winds to make you feel like you’re holed up in a gorgeous log cabin instead of stuck in your messy apartment for the holidays.
For Yule logs all day every day
I can’t count how many different videos I’ve seen that feature something in front of a Yule log for an extended period of time. Many of them are delightful—whether you’re using them as something to have on in the background during a holiday get-together, or you enjoy watching someone struggle through a Survivor-like endurance challenge. In no particular order, here are a few of my favourites:
For unlocking your heart before it’s too late
There are plenty of different versions of A Christmas Carol you can pick from for the holiday season. I’m a fan of the musical, especially when George Costanza provides the vocals for everyone’s favourite tormented holiday character. I also like the simple, no-fuss classic, especially when it’s read by British people at the BBC. In this streaming version of the Dickens classic, you can even read along as you listen—fun for the whole sugarplum-loving family.
For stalking the big man with the gifts
If you still do that Santa thing, you can watch him careen through the sky using the official NORAD Santa tracker—a time-honored tradition. It’s probably a lot more modern to pick up your smartphone and call him up or chat with him on your Google-approved device, but that’s just me.
And, yes, Google also has a Santa tracker. Heck, it has a whole holiday village you can explore while you wait for he-who-shall-not-be-bribed’s arrival. I kid. I’m going to slap a Juicy Lucy on the plate come December 24 and hope it’s enough to get me a Pugsheen this year.
For learning more about the holiday season’s biggest VIPs
Sure, everyone’s heard of Santa, and you can probably name a majority of the eight reindeer. How well do you know all of the major pop culture icons that have something to do with the holiday season, though? Give Merry Quizmas a shot, and let us know how you did—unless your score is more “Yuletide Yokel” than “Grand Tinsel-Covered Viceroy of the Holiday.”
For really tracking everything coming to your house over the holidays
I love that I can see all the mail, UPS, and FedEx packages that get sent to my house, even if that means that I also get way too many notifications about my roommates’ stuff (in the case of the USPS, that is). Sign up for the free delivery-tracking services from each of the “big three” shipping services, and you’ll never miss a present on your porch.
For getting weird during the holidays
I have a Lego Advent calendar, which I only bought because I wanted the tiny Star Wars figurines — delayed gratification be damned. I much prefer the Christmas XP WebGL Advent calendar. It’s geeky, and it shows off a wide variety of creative approaches to content and rendering from a bunch of awesome digital artists.
For giving a little back
There two incredible gift programs you can take part in on Reddit — one that’s one-hundred-per cent generosity, and one that’s a quid pro quo. If you want to brighten someone’s day and give them, or someone they profile, a gift out of the blue, I encourage you to go check out the Random Acts of Christmas subreddit. Pick a person, send a gift (a nice note never hurts, too), and feel good about doing good. It’s as easy as that.
Otherwise, if you’d like a more traditional gift exchange, you’ll want to bookmark redditgifts for next year—as the sign-up for the Secret Santa typically ends around the end of November. That said, there are plenty of other gift exchanges you can sign up for in the meantime. Here’s hoping you get some awesome stuff.