It's mid-October as I write this, and if the shop displays I saw last week whilst on holiday in the USA are anything to go by, I ought to be starting to think about Christmas. What has that got to with this column? Well, Christmas is about communicating goodwill, so I suppose Comms Corner is as good a place as any to turn on the fairy lights.
It's three in the morning (deadlines, you know) and I've been trawling the Net in search of that elusive bugger Father Christmas. Rarely have I come across such a large number of vanished links on my travels. It seems that Santa makes himself rather scarce during the other eleven months of the year. However, the Internet being a fairly large place, there are still plenty of haunts for us to check out, so let's find out where the fat geezer with the red costume and white beard spends his time, shall we?
When it comes to the jolly old man in red, it soon becomes apparent that there are a number of contenders for his title. Going on the URL alone, I must admit that http://www.north-pole.org/ sounds pretty convincing. Santa's official home page can be found here, and offers you the chance of meeting the elves, reading seasonal stories, playing games, getting to know the reindeer and finding out what Santa's favourite snack is.
Christmas at http://www.markettech.com/santamail/default.htm, on the other hand, allows you to send your children e-mail in Santa's name. The idea is that they send him mail first, which you then reply to, creating a fairly convincing illusion in the process. It's just like when we sent Father Christmas mail as children, but now it's all on-line. Makes you feel old, doesn't it? Just don't let your kids catch you writing the reply!
If you want to torture yourself by counting down to the big day itself, have a look at http://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/xmas_cnt.htm. This site's home page has many more merry links at http://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/christmas.html.
There seems to be some controversy about where the old saint actually lives. Santa is a big tourist attraction and the Fins have put masses of information about the festive season on the Web, courtesy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Ever wanted to know how Fins traditionally spend Christmas? Experience the festive fun as a fly on their pudding at http://www.vn.fi/vn/um/finfo/english/joulueng.html. And I'll bet you didn't know that they eat baked lutefish over there? Have you even heard of lutefish? Well, I know I hadn't. Find out how to bake one at http://www.vn.fi/vn/um/finfo/english/joulreng.html. Who says the World Wide Web is full of trivia?
On a more useful note, whilst following the reindeer tracks, I chanced upon a genuinely lovely site that explores Christmas traditions around the world. You can even learn how to wish someone Merry Christmas in 33 languages (probably spoiling their Christmas in the process) and browse the lyrics to all the popular carols at http://www.christmas.com/christmas.html.
You'll be pleased to hear that last year's Christmas card to the American people from the Clintons (groan!) can mercifully not be seen on a PCW.
The Christmas in Cyberspace site has a good Santa Claus FAQ, plus the history of the man himself (known as Joulupukki in Finland, I'll have you know). There's a great deal of interesting material here. For example, discover why we kiss under the mistletoe (I should be so lucky!).
Have you ever wanted to become one of Santa's little helpers. Guess what? You can! What with the modern population explosion, the old boy has his hands full these days and is hiring elves right now. Point your one horse open sleigh at http://mofile.fi/rec/santa/corr.htm.
The children of the Bernadotte School in Copenhagen have realised a novel idea in the form of an on-line Advent calendar. This is where not having a multimedia computer is a shame, because it's a really nice idea and well implemented, too. Ask a PC owning friend for a quick butcher's.
For the cynical turkeys amongst you who found the last URL too sickly sweet, humbug on over to the technical analysis of Father Christmas. This one was definitely written by a little boy who Santa Claus forgot.
The inevitable on-line Christmas Shoppe allows you to blissfully avoid the Christmas hordes and shop direct from the comfort of your grotto.
Remember what I said about tourism? Why not arrange a trip to the Arctic Circle to meet the stocking stuffer himself in his very own workshop? I'm going to have to confess my agnosticism here, but for those of you who never stopped believing, you can book a date with Santa at http://www.travel.fi/int/special/santa/SantaClaus.html.
One last festive site to round off the year is the Home Page for the Holidays, with seasonal recipes, information on Christmas films, music (sorry, not on the PCW), images to print out for your children to colour in, and lots more.
Many of the above sites carry links to dozens more with a festive flavour. You'll find a wealth of information and fun to be had, all absolutely free of charge. That's the wonderful Christmas spirit of the Web, which lasts all year round. So don't be a pudding, feast your mince pies on the Web this Christmas.
Here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy 1997.