Not long ago, there were two ways to tell Santa Claus what you wanted for Christmas: sitting on his lap or writing a letter. Now, like with just about everything else, St. Nick is available by text or e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. Kids can watch his worldwide journey online or take a phone call.
Santa Claus is truly everywhere. And just as unfettered access sometimes tempts adults to lose their cool on e-mail listservs or Facebook comments, spoiled kids can be tempted to flame out on Santa.
"Some people have texted Santa that aren't so happy with Santa," said Drew Olanoff, who plays Santa on a text messaging system. "They've been a little rude. I've let them know that would be considered bad behavior. You really shouldn't talk to Santa like that."
The increased use of electronic services to reach Santa Claus reflects another reality of life outside the North Pole. Some major post offices, including Philadelphia, say they're handling far less mail directed to him. Chicago has handled about 10,000 letters to Santa this year, down from 15,000 to 20,000 in 2009.
So tech services are finding they can get a promotional boost from Kris Kringle without renting a red suit and a white beard. Most of them are in their first few years and use the gimmicks to show the power of their techologies.
Portable North Pole, a project launched by Montreal-based video web developer UgroupMedia, sends kids personalized videos from Santa - even those who deserve a lump of coal. Tell the site your kid hasn't been so good, and the video Santa peers over his glasses and tells the child: "You're on my naughty watch."
Another site, TextSanta.net, expects to send out close to 100,000 texts this year.
T.J. Kirgin Jr., CEO of the 2-year-old texting operation and also leader of an advertising firm in St. Charles, Mo., said the idea is to be greener - not generating all those paper letters - and to raise money for charity. From every $3.99 text, $1 is donated to the March of Dimes.
Kirgin said it's a thrill for children not just to write to Santa, but to hear from him.
"One parent said (his son) was so excited that he got a text message from Santa that he actually peed his pants," Kirgin said. The child then feared that Santa would be upset at him for not being a "big boy."
The parents had Santa send another text to tell him it was OK.
Sue Wangler, a grandmother who lives in Maryland Heights, Mo., has been using the service to have Santa send texts to her granddaughter and some other young friends for three years.
She said the messages are helpful for her granddaughter and a close friend, both 9, who have been wondering whether Santa's real. "This text from Santa has prolonged the belief system a little longer," she said.
Gogii, a mobile application development firm in Marina del Rey, Calif., for which Olanoff plays Santa, has an irreverent take on children's Christmas lists. Olanoff posts some requests on his blog at textingsantaclaus.com, along with some cheeky responses.
One texter asked for a pony. "Really?" Olanoff wrote on the blog (not back to the child). "Kids still ask for those? Ponies are so like 1993. Unicorns are the new hot. Unicorns with Rainbow T-Shirts in fact."
The most faithful believers in Santa Claus, of course, are too young to type or text. But hold them up to the monitor and they'll see that Santa is on Facebook and Twitter, too.
One Twitter feed with 3,400 followers is put together by NORAD, the military organization responsible for the aerospace and maritime defense of the U.S. and Canada, years ago went online with its beloved Santa Tracker every Christmas Eve to let kids know when St. Nick is getting near them - and to teach a bit about geography and global culture.
Of course, not every effort to reach Santa is high-tech.
By Tuesday, Macy's had collected 987,000 letters in the mailboxes set up in its stores. The department store is donating $1 for each letter - up to $1 million - to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Macy's is collecting letters in paper form but offers an online template for those who have forgotten how a letter looks.
Fairbanks, Alaska, resident Laura Volmert says her daughters have different, but more traditional, approaches to communicating with the bearded one.
Seven-year-old Eleanor Adasiak trusts that with his magical powers, Santa will simply know what she wants.
Four-year-old Josie Adasiak did write a letter, but she doesn't know how to write anything beyond what Volmert calls "a collection of random letters on a page."
Her request was sealed in an envelope with care - but it didn't go into the mail. It was hidden away in the same undisclosed location where the tooth fairy deposits the Adasiak girls' baby teeth.
And while their volume of mail to Santa is down, two dozen post offices are still matching up letters from the needy with volunteers who want to help through the Operation Santa program.
"I don't think that people are going to stop writing Santa," said Mark Reynolds, a Postal Service spokesman in Chicago, "especially if they're in need of some holiday magic."