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For computer-literate kids, that always fragile Father Christmas magic is under threat from sheer weight of numbers. There are dozens of Net Santas out there, in Lapland, Iceland, Australia, Alaska and Los Angeles: special interest Santas working for toy and computer stores, Web design consultants indulging in a little seasonal self-promotion, and SantaClaus@northpole.com, who will send you a Christmas e-mail for $5. is an interesting variation: a series of would-be-Webcam shots of our hero in action, in grainy black and white for added verisimilitude. A series of still frames shows him at work in a modest suburban home, taking something out of his sack, or perhaps sneaking something into it: there's a furtive air of surveillance about the images, suggestive of burglary.

The Welford and Wickham Primary School Page


Luckily, there are some Web pages not only aimed at kids but actually designed by them. This Berkshire village school site, redolent of end-of-term messing about with crayons and paintboxes, has homepages for pupils aged between five and 11, with self-portraits, off-the-peg graphics of Christmas lights and reindeer, and mini-biographies describing themselves and their pets. Carly (nine) has a cat and has written a special Christmas acrostic. Nicole has two cats and a goldfish; she had a dog but it died. Kirsty has a rabbit named Flower; her budgie flew out of the window some time ago, but she can draw what looks like a dog with a Santa hat. The youngest contributor, Liam, is only four and still in playgroup, but manages a little sketch of himself in a stripy pullover. Adult help is in evidence, of course, but Web consultants beware: the competition gets younger all the time.

The Internet Beggar


Christmas is above all a time for giving. Several different sites will accept Mastercard and Visa for a seasonal donation, will guarantee not to put it to good use, and won't even try to sell you The Big Issue in return. Submit your gift via the link marked "There you go mate", and the page will reply, "God bless you, sir." The page also hosts fellow- mendicants in Japan, with their cry of "Merry Christmas, I want delicious chickens - invite me to your party!" This Japanese group (of out-of-work actors?) offers a prize to the most generous donor: a chance to sponsor a personalised production of the Brecht/Weill Threepenny Opera, presumably in its kabuki version.

Christmas Facts Home Page


Those in search of the real meaning of Christmas may well turn to this page for inspiration. But the "facts" in this case turn out to be those of Biblical literalism. "Learn not the way of the Heathen", Jeremiah 10:2, King James Version; so out goes Santa for turning a religious holiday into an occult festival with talking snowmen, elves and flying reindeer. Christmas trees, with their druidical antecedents, are similarly suspect. There's an anti-Catholic agenda ("Did Mary die a Virgin?") and the chance to visit "heaven" and "hell" by clicking the appropriate hotspot; that term too has a new literalness here. Choose your destination by pressing the "salvation" button, and ponder the cleverness of this site in the way it pre-empts any chance of parody.

Ancient Origins of the Holidays


Real poetry, not the Christmas card variety, in this resonant survey of 5,000 years of folklore and tradition. Solstice, Saturnalia and Yule, pre-Christian precursors of Christmas, are not only explained but evoked, with their roots in the winter solstice (this past weekend) and fear of the long Scandinavian night.

The site takes ecumenicalism to the extreme, moving from Iranian and Native American fertility rituals to an account of how political motives led to the creative mishmash of Roman, Mithraic and Christian traditions we are currently celebrating. The sense of wonder sometimes lapses - holly was used to trap evil spirits, we are told, "sort of like flypaper for fairies" - but this is an informative and enriching siten