iPhone Holidays
Chris Cross—Getty Images/Caiaimage
December 11, 2014 8:00 AM EST

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—trees on every app. So when you’re sifting through the App Store, how do you pick out the sugarplums from the coal?

It’s tough to say, but these seven-apps-a-swiping are pretty much guaranteed to get you and your iPhone in the holiday spirit.

Christmas Stories: Hans Christian Andersen’s Tin Solder HD

In the age of the iPhone, it seems all the old fashioned holiday amusements have been remade electronically — from Advent calendars to jigsaw puzzles. But this game developed by Big Fish Studios, which specializes in colorful, graphic-rich, and kid-friendly apps, doesn’t just rehash the old hidden object picture book, it turns it into an adventure, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale.

Free to play, but with in-app purchases, the title is full of snowy scenes to explore. (And tapping is a great way to keep kids from unwrapping.) Or, for hidden object games that stick more closely to the original tales, the company also offers downloads based on A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker.

Christmas Stories: Hans Christian Andersen’s Tin Solder HD is available for free on the App Store.

Fireplace HD+

Okay, purists, I know nothing beats a Yule log, but while you’re sitting there denigrating this digital fire app, ask yourself where your chestnuts are. That’s right — traditions are what you make of them, and if you want the ambiance of a glowing fireplace without glowing embers smoldering on your carpet, this app is where it’s at.

Whether its on your iPhone, iPad, or streamed via Airplay to your Apple TV (a trick I’d recommend), this five-scene fire-scape is easy on the eyes and makes some great ambiance. And as a bonus, it’s not particularly holiday-oriented, so it’s good year round. The video is complete with crackling sounds, but if you’d like to put some music to it, there are piano medleys and radio station searches available. And if you’re enjoying some spiked egg nog along with the fire, the app has a sleep timer so you you don’t have to worry about it burning through the night. The only problem I can see with this app is figuring out how Santa will come down your digital chimney.

Fireplace HD+ is available for $.99 on the App Store.

NORAD Tracks Santa

Children, when your parents were little boys and girls, they used to stay up late on Christmas Eve to watch the news, so the weatherman could tell them where Santa had been spotted in his annual trek across the globe. But then they grinched out and cut their cable, so now they have to track Jolly Old Saint Nick on their smartphones.

The official sleigh-monitoring app, NORAD Tracks Santa puts those meteorologists’ tools in the palm of your hand. But before all the sightings begin, the app has a few gifts leading up to the big day. Before Christmas eve, the app displays a countdown and has all sorts of historic information about how the government (NORAD, not the NSA) has been tracking the airborne sleigh for decades. It even has a cute little game called “Thin Ice” to make the time until Christmas move even faster.

NORAD Tracks Santa is available for free on the App Store.

PopOut! The Night Before Christmas

Since we’re on the topic of old-timey tech like televisions, before there were iPads, we had paper-clad tablets called “books.” And on the night before Christmas, I’ll bet you can guess what we read. (Answer: The Night Before Christmas.)

This Parents’ Choice award-winning pop-up book app takes little and big readers alike on an interactive, yet authentic retelling of the classic holiday tale. Using all the familiar paper mechanics like pull-tabs and spin wheels (and they don’t ever rip!), this app has feel of a genuine pop-up book, but nearly every graphical element is loaded with a surprise, so kids who grew up using touch computers will stay stimulated and engaged. Meanwhile a great score of piano-based holiday music helps turn it into a soothing holiday experience. On Donder and Blitzen!

PopOut! The Night Before Christmas is available for $3.99 on the App Store.

Sing! Karaoke by Smule

“The best way to spread christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear,” Buddy the Elf famously said, and we certainly agree. This popular karaoke app is typically great for bellowing out the hottest current hits, but its Holiday music tab has a little bit of everything, from the season’s staples like “Auld Lang Syne” (admit it, you have no idea what the words are) to Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

The app is free, and unfortunately designed around users paying for access to songs — Charlie Brown was right, Christmas is a commercial racket! — but you can sing most tracks for without paying if you join in a duet with someone who’s already sung the track online. And when you think about it that way, helping to spread good tidings and cheer over the web, there actually is quite a bit of holiday spirit in this app after all.

Sing! Karaoke by Smule is available for free on the App Store.

Gift It

Forgive the little ones for thinking that Christmas is about presents — but they’re sort of right. It’s the season of giving, and this well thought out app is definitely on Santa’s smartphone, helping him to plan out how to get every good little boy and girl what they want. A pass-code lockable list where gifts can be listed by recipient and budgets can be mastered and adhered to, this tool is a convenient way to make sure the stockings get stuffed and everyone gets the perfect present — without spoilers.

Gift It is available for free on the App Store.

Ideas for Elves

Oh the Elf on the Shelf — the little imp that kids love to hate. It seems that parents are starting to make frenemies with this imaginary babysitter too, as they’re running out of ever-more creative ways to stage his hijinks (as well as the energy to keep the antics up). But with this official app, parents can team up and share ideas on how they’ve kept this creepy — or rather, quaint — tradition going strong.

Each idea comes with a list of materials and instructions needed for the Christmassy caper. And even better, the app’s nightly alert reminds parents stretched thin by the holidays to give their little helper a new perch for the next day.

Ideas for Elves is available for free on the App Store.

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