While the more astute members of the animal kingdom curl up and sleep through the long winter months, humans - or, at least, those of us with modems - make do with the next best thing. We cybernate. With a few hurried mouse-clicks, we escape from reality to the Never-Never Land of the Internet.
So don't waste these last weeks of December trudging around the shops, queuing at the Post Office, worrying if batteries are included, force-feeding carol singers with mince-pies and grumbling that Christmas isn't what it used to be. Instead of throwing another Yule log on to the fire, log on to the Web where everyone is as determined as Tiny Tim to make the most of the festive season.
This is the time of year when salespersons eagerly await the coming of a great profit. The cannier ones are on-line tempting Christmas shoppers. All you have to do is point 'n' click - and, of course, type in those magic numbers embossed on your credit card.
If you need help on deciding what to buy, there are plenty of sites devoted exclusively to offering advice. A perplexed husband, for instance, could do worse that visit Linda Stretton's page of hints on what to give the love of his life - or even his wife. A typically useful example: "Buy her an empty perfume bottle, then whisk her off to France to fill it."
If, on the other hand, you're strapped for cash, the Internet - despite the enormous telephone bill that will land on your mat in January - will help you keep your seasonal spending to a minimum. You'll find detailed instructions on how to make a range of Blue Peterish presents out of discarded household objects. You can also save a fortune on Christmas cards by using the Net's efficient system for sending round-robins. You simply compile a distribution list of everyone you know who is on-line. Then, in a matter of seconds, you can e-mail your seasonal salutations to all of them.
Better still, you can visit the Christmas Around the World site, choose from the selection of digitised cards displayed there, compose the message that you'd like to accompany it and the e-mail addresses of the people you want to send it to. They will be automatically contacted and told to come to collect the card for themselves.
Of course, you will want to e-mail Santa, who promises to reply to everyone who writes. Before starting a correspondence, it would be wise to visit a site which answers the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about him. As well as being let in on the secret of Mrs Claus' maiden name or how he knows which children have been naughty, you will find an unequivocal answer to a question that has had the techies arguing for years: Santa, it seems, "uses Apple Macintosh computers".
If you would prefer to communicate with his elves, you will find the necessary link on the Christmas pages of the delightful site maintained by pupils at Welford and Wickham Primary School in Berkshire. It's well worth a visit if only to see how the opportunity to publish on the Web provides a wonderful stimulus to creative work in the classroom. But don't spend too long here or you won't have enough time for all the other seasonal freebies that any search engine will find you simply by keying in the word "Christmas". There's clip-art, photographs, background information on Christmas customs in other countries, scripts for nativity plays and hundreds of carols, complete with sheet music. Then there are definitive lists of Christmas pop songs and movies, jokes, cartoons, parodies, trivia quizzes, virtual advent calendars and countless games. Enough material, in fact, to keep you happily cybernating until this time next year.
Welford and Wickham School
Christmas Around the World
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