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Lost in Cyberspace

Holiday shopping can be easier online

This article was originally published on November 30, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

The winter holiday season can seem brutal. Finding that perfect gift for Aunt Madge can be enough to drive you around the bend. So can trying to make springerle cookies like the ones your wife remembers her grandmother making. And staying in touch with your extended family and friends is another headache.

One of the things the Internet does best, though, is help track down information. From the special German springerle that's close to your in-laws' traditional recipe to a Hummel figurine that completes Aunt Madge's collection to organizing your Christmas cards, the Web can be a godsend to those of us with more holiday ambition than time.

Santa, of course, is on the Web. offers a whole slate of useful tools for surviving the holidays. You can track your FedEx and UPS shipments, look up ZIP codes, learn how to make your own Christmas ornaments, send electronic Christmas cards, find the lyrics to old carols, listen to really bad midi renditions of holiday songs, or get directions for fun holiday craft projects.

Sadly, Santa has gone commercial – the site seems to be driven by advertising, but there is a lot to do and children will enjoy this site as well. isn't nearly as commercial, but not as entertaining, either. It seems to be more of a hobbyist site. There are some nice, traditional Christmas recipes here, though, and a list of favorite Christmas stories.

From both sites, children can send their letters to Santa via e-mail, and receive a response back.

Another site for simply generating holiday ideas – recipes, crafts, etc. – is Sierra's page. While obviously a way to plug Sierra's line of home improvement software, the site does offer a wealth of free information and free e-mail Christmas cards. One of the neatest features is a complete holiday menu, including a vegetarian version. There are also how-to guides on making your own holiday candles, creating a centerpiece from yard clippings (might be more useful in the snowbelt than for those of us in Southern California or Florida), and creating holiday photo collections.

When you've got the home front covered and want to catch up on those Christmas presents – but hate the crowds and traffic at the malls – there are some great online shopping sites. is laid out like a mall, with each store having its own space. Participants include Eddie Bauer, Macy's, Avon, JC Penney,, Wal-Mart and more. has the same basic model as VirtuallyShopping, but is far more upscale. Rather than a mall, works with stores from famed shopping districts: New York's Fifth Avenue, Los Angeles' Rodeo Drive, London's Bond Street. Participating merchants here include Brooks Brothers, Tiffany and Kenneth Cole.

Yahoo's shopping site is aimed at a more middle-class crowd. Among the stores you'll find here are the Sports Authority, Patagonia, ToysRUs, Sharper Image and other suburban mall mainstays.

Do remember that you can't really do your last-minute shopping online, though, because you need to leave a few days or even weeks for delivery of your orders.

And surfing the Web, while certainly faster than walking up and down the aisles of your favorite store or boutique, also lacks a certain charm that can go with holiday shopping. No one's yet developed a really intuitive way of simply browsing through merchandise, of picking up something that catches your eye, of finding something you just didn't realize you were looking for.