Electronic greetings cards are one of the few internet products that are actually far better than the real thing. They are cheap (usually free) and can be circulated to your entire group of business contacts at the press of a button. Most cards are animated and can play seasonal tunes, although on the downside the quality is usually rotten because of bandwidth limitations. Cards can also be personalised with your own photo and message. Best of all, e-cards can't be strung all over the office by festively minded secretaries.
The granddaddy of Christmas card sites is Blue Mountain at www.bluemountain.com/eng3/ christmas/. It has loads of simple cartoon cards from the rude to the ridiculous, including tinny music. For something classier, try www.santaconnection.com, which specialises in superior glossy photos of baubles on trees, snow and so on. Very tasteful.
For a more down-to-earth approach, try www.eastbourne-web.co.uk/cards/ step2christmas.html, which has a selection of simple, non-slick graphics with a very strange collection of music, including I Wanna Hold Your Hand, among other tunes. My favourite is Liverpool-based Duckmail, where you will find a gallery of attractive cards featuring snowmen, Santa, angels and kings. But the lovely final touch is the "sealed with a kiss" feature – you can attach a small sound file that gives the recipient a real smoocher when opened. See www.duckmail-greetings.co.uk.
Oh, and if you thought charity cards were dead, you can send a virtual Unicef greeting courtesy of Nokia at www.nokia.com/xmascard/index.html.
Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without playing a few games. Or maybe not. But if computer games are your thing, you will find lots of festive family fun on the web.
At www.santa-claus.com/game_menu.htm, the games include the venerable hangman and snowballers – where elves peek out from behind snowmen so you can splat them. Just one word of warning: all these games are in Shockwave and take absolutely ages to download.
The fun is slightly more cerebral on www.xmastime.co.uk/funstuff/ – apart from the inevitable hangman. In Santa's Grotto, you have to maximise profits by selling goods appropriate to the weather forecast – hot mince pies for cold days and turkey sandwiches for hot days. You have three weeks to make as much profit as you can – so you'll still be playing this long after the turkey sandwiches have run out.
Simpler pleasures can be found at www.christmas.uk.com, a shopping site with a bunch of goodies, including a range of antisocial screensavers that plaster seasonal greetings all over your screen and play festive tunes in true Hammond organ-style.
We are well into advent now, and there are a whole range of online calendars for you to browse through. Just click on the date and you get a nice surprise. Sometimes.
The British Museum advent calendar is a lovely Victorian print of the famous facade, with treasures from within hidden behind its doors. See it at www.british-museum.ac.uk/education/ advent. Acumenweb's downloadable advent calendar has a new game every day, including a daft reindeer race that could be the basis of major office gambling rings. Download it from www.acumenuk.com/advent/.
If you are the traditional type, why not get the kids to make a reusable advent calendar out of felt and board? Find instructions at www.kidsdomain.co.uk/kids/holidays/the_ reuseable_advent_calendar.html.
Pub quiz buffs might prefer the historical facts advent calendar at www.north-pole.co.uk/advent. Click on any date and a raft of obscure and not-so-obscure anniversaries pops up.
Internet joke pages tend to be sad recitals of playground smut, but, if you really must, try wallofjokes.te-c.net/X-mas_Index.shtml, which contains clean, wholesome fun. And believe it or not, some of it is actually funny – the engineers' view of Santa is a hilariously straight-faced calculation of exactly how much energy is consumed by Kris Kringle delivering all those presents.
There's lots of stuff along similar lines at www.laffnow.com, including a nice press release about Microsoft buying Christmas, but allowing the release date to slip into the new year – which I suspect is now almost as traditional as the Twelve Days of Turkey parody also featured.
Anyone expected to give a speech at the office party will find www.homestead.com/santa_ claus1/jokes1.html a fund of truly dreadful festive puns. Absolutely the pits.
Food and drink
The web is simply awash with recipes for traditional Christmas dinner, "that slightly different" Christmas dinner (usually salmon) and veggie Christmas dinner (usually defensively described as "just as good as the real thing"). Type "Christmas food" into your search engine and you will get all you need. If you can't be bothered, try msn.simplyfood.co.uk for a comprehensive collection of recipes and an excellent wine guide. Also, and this may be of particular appeal, there's a cheat's guide to Christmas entertaining with as little actual work as possible.
The online retail trade is hoping this Christmas will be when e-tailing really takes off, and so they are out in force. Christmas shopping online can be a lifesaver for anyone with relatives abroad. Forgotten to send cousin Bill in Toronto his gift before the Post Office's drop-dead day? Order from www.amazon.com, or any other US-based e-tailer, and they may be able to deliver the goods on time, wrapped in festive paper and with your own card, although the fact that it is printed may give the game away.
In the UK, gadgets and novelty gifts are all over the web. Almost all sell Billy Bass, the singing fish beloved by the Queen. The Gadget Shop at www.gadgetshop. co.uk has the Singing Catfish, the Singing Trout and the Singing Lobster, so you can put a whole aquarium on your wall.
The latest news on the prank front, however, is the demise of the old-fashioned whoopie cushion, which has been replaced by the remote-control farting machine. Place the speaker in the corridor, wait for your victim to pass by and press the button on the remote. Gales of laughter for just £10.99.
Birmingham-based www.funny-gifts.co.uk has nodding garden ornaments, novelty loo rolls and more, but the most enticing gadget of them all is from the Gadget Shop – a full-size table football machine. You can order the players in your favourite team's strip or even your own Sunday league shirt. Drawback – the £1395 price tag.
Hear the Christmas mobiles ring …
Spread a little seasonal cheer every time your mobile rings by downloading Jingle Bells or We Wish You a Merry Christmas from the Ericsson site at www.ericsson.co.nz/ericsson/ consumer_products/mobile_phones/tune.asp.
If you have a Nokia handset, you will have to join the Nokia Club at www.club.nokia.com, where you will be able to download a selection of festive tunes. Alternatively, www.togo.co.uk/tunes and www.yourmobile.com has melodies from Aerosmith to the Venga Boys, and themes from the A-Team to the X-Files.