NORAD Santa Tracker 2011: Google Maps Helps You Keep An Eye On Santa This Christmas Eve (VIDEOS)

The holidays are here at last. And you know what that means. No, not family, togetherness or even presents. It means it's time to track Santa as he makes his annual trek around the globe.

Google and the North American Aerospace Defense Command have teamed up once again to help you keep an eye on old Saint Nick from the time he takes off from the North Pole.

Starting at 2 a.m. EST on December 24, Google users who have installed the Google Earth plugin can watch 3D animations of Santa and his reindeer flying by landmarks like the Cathedral of Florence, the Taj Mahal, Big Ben and more.

Visit the official NORAD Santa Site to see where in the world you can find Santa at any moment on Christmas Eve. Click the "Santa cam" icons to see videos of Mr. Kringle piloting his sleigh above the world's cities.

You can also keep tabs on Santa's sleigh from your mobile device. Just open your Google Maps app and search "santa" for an up-to-the-minute display of Santa's delivery route.

The yearly custom of spying on Santa has been in place for over 50 years. A post on the Official Google Blog explains the origin of the collaboration between the web giant and NATO:

NORAD’s tradition of tracking Santa on Christmas Eve started in 1955, when a Sears and Roebuck ad promoting the Talk-to-Santa hotline inadvertently sent callers to CONAD (NORAD’s predecessor) commander-in-chief’s operations hotline. After recovering from the surprise that the call was not from the Pentagon or the White House but instead a little boy inquiring if the commander was Santa Claus, Colonel Harry Shoup asked his team to check their radar for signs of Santa’s sleigh and a tradition was born.

NORAD's Denver-based Santa-tracking team, which answers phone calls, emails and social media messages as Santa makes his way across the globe, has expanded quite a bit as the tradition developed. According to the AP, they've "added 20 phones this year, bringing the total to 120, and four more laptops, for a total of 23." The crew stays on alert until 3 a.m. Mountain Time on December 25. You can get live updates from them on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Google's also getting into the holiday spirit this year by offering a Gmail-powered app that lets users send personalized greetings from Santa to friends and family. The search engine also transformed its home page with an interactive logo that serenades the user with "Jingle Bells" and festive lights.

Take a look at some highlights from Santa's first stops on his Christmas Eve journey (below).

NORAD Santa Tracker