WEEKLY WEB WATCH: Xmas sites mix up cheer and profits

Organisation: Various

Organisation: Various

Issue: Christmas

At: Various

Want to know how to make the 12-course Polish Christmas feast, or to send a virtual Christmas card? There's no escape from Christmas at this time of year, and the internet is no exception.

From trivia about how the festival is celebrated around the world, to online games and presents, there are dozens of sites to get you in the mood, and most are accompanied by seasonal muzak, if you really want to push yourself over the edge.

www.christmas-time.com opens with a medley of Christmas tunes apparently played on paper and comb, but if you get past the home page the site has recipes, stories and poems, web Christmas cards and a shopping section with links to online gift retailers.

This is a formula used by a number of other dedicated sites, including www.christmas.uk.com where cartoon icons of Santa and falling snow lead to areas such as 'Grotto'.

Here you can e-mail Santa - a perfect online application of a children's tradition, but one that makes you feel a bit old. The 'shopping' section has links to a snowy virtual high street, with links to stores such as Boots, Tesco, Dixons and Waterstones. The site also has a 'travel' section, for those of you wanting to get away from the extended family, with links to airlines and holiday sites.

A virtual letter form Santa is also on the menu at www.northpole.co.uk, a Scottish site (although this isn't immediately obvious until you find that all the food and gift ideas are Scottish). There's also a 'chat to Santa online' section, breaking the trend of chatroom conversations in that you have a fairly good idea of who the chap on the other end is. The site has an advent calender with a historical fact each day, and lots of Christmas jokes.

www.xmas.co.uk also has links to retailers such as WHSmith, e-cards, links to travel sites, and a children's section with games. This site is one of the few that includes sections on charity and religious traditions, and even has a Remembrance message board where tributes to loved ones who have passed away can be posted, and a Peace board where messages of peace can be left. This doesn't appear to have been taken too seriously by one contributor, who writes 'peace and love to all human beings, and any young chicks out there'.

One rather cheeky site is www.christmasdirect.com, which has no festive content whatsoever and is simply a portal with links to retailers which come under the Shops On the Net banner. The one concession to its URL is flakes of snow falling across the screen, although there is a Scrooge-like 'Turn off the Snow!' function.

If all this commercialism is getting you down, and you fancy getting back to the true spirit of Christmas, you might not have much luck on the internet: the Church of England's site (www.england.anglican.org) only has one obvious mention of its main festival, and that is a flash to 'order your 2000 Christmas cards'.

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