santa claus by the fireplace and christmas tree in living room
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Photoshop Santa Claus Into Your Living Room With These Free Apps

Augmented reality has really changed the game.

Let's face it, this seems to be a year devoid of all magic and joy. Finding small things that might be even a little bit entertaining is huge. Thankfully, there are a few fun opportunities to make the holidays a bit brighter. One of these are the Christmas apps that allow you to insert Santa into your home via augmented reality. It's like playing Pokémon, but you're catching Jolly Old Saint Nick, instead.

It's creative as heck, and way more convincing than some of the things I've tried to convince my kids of the Santa myth. (Also, this requires 100% less glitter, which I am here for.) The apps are all basically the same; you film or take a picture of your living room or wherever, and then click a button to insert and size Santa so that he fits appropriately into the space. Some of them have Santa unpacking presents, and others just have a Santa in repose. There are even interactive augmented realities that kids can play with themselves, like the "Bring Reindeer to Life" program by Texas grocery store chain, HEB.

Our interactions are so limited this year, why not take a dive into the fun world of augmented reality for a little while? I took the time to download and test drive all these (and more) applications to find the best and easiest to use. After excluding any apps that were slow to load, glitchy, or otherwise too costly, here are the best of the bunch.


Catch Santa In My House

The free Catch Santa In My House app is fantastic, easy to use, and straight forward. It's perfect to use to "trick" your kids into seeing Santa in your room. This one is one of my favorites. It has the most "real" feel.

Available in iOS and Android, it's an easy photo edit app that allows you to choose one of 50 Santa poses that you then digitally place in a picture of your living room. The editor in the app is seamless and easy to use, and the pictures actually end up looking pretty good. I will admit, if you save the pic and run it through a filter, it looks even more believable for the generation of kids who are living with AR every day.


Santa Was Here

The free Santa Was Here app is a bit more of a caricature, but it's still really cute. The platform is simple and interactive, with plenty of great options for placing Santa. I say "caricature," because Santa is kind of cartoonish in this version. Also, if you want more than a couple of poses, or access to the ability to record and personalize, it's no longer free. However, it works the same as Catch Santa, and just as easily. Again, filters are your friend, and it's on iOS.


Santa, Reindeer, and Snow Globe Filters

Courtesy Cat Bowen through HEB

Grocery store chain HEB offers a slew of free holiday-themed apps that are like festive filters. Their Santa app is a ton of fun. My daughter must have scrolled through every iteration, and tried desperately to get the Santa where she wanted him. You can even choose from a library of Santas with different skin tones.

You can open the application in Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, or through the web, and the app places the Santa (cowboy) hat on your child and a dancing Santa appears on the screen while Texas landmarks like The Alamo scroll across the bottom. Obviously, you're going to want to send the picture or video to the whole family.

For some reindeer fun, their reindeer themed filter is fairly simple, but fun and charming, and kids love the AR aspect of it. After opening the app in Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, or your phone, you move your phone around a bit to engage the augmented reality. If you open it directly to the web, the animated reindeer and trees pop up on the screen and dance and jump wherever the camera is pointed. If you open it via one of the applications, it becomes a funny interactive filter like the virtual Santa. Alternatively, you can turn off the AR, and just play with the reindeer on the screen by tilting your device or toggling them with your mouse.

And their snow globe app makes better use of the AR than most. As you walk around with the AR open and engaged, it will place an animated snow globe in the environment that moves and dances with the motion of the phone. If you open it up in one of the apps, your head pops up inside the snow globe, which is hilarious if you're sticking it over your brother's face.