Christmas can be a stressful time of year, but not if you've got the right combination of apps, games and digital tools at your disposal. Here's our pick of this season's essentials...

Christmas is well and truly upon us, bringing with it some super surprises, sumptuous suppers and – sometimes – the odd stressful situation. But it needn’t be a bother: if you arm your smartphone with the right combination of apps this Christmas you’ll fly through the festive period with ease.

Whether you need to entertain the family, keep the kids enthralled, or save the day at the last moment, these are the apps you need to seek out right now…

Festive favourites

Elf Yourself by Office Depot | Android and iOS, Free

Time marches on and many things change, but some Christmas traditions will be around forever. The Elf Yourself app is a modern iteration of the early 2000s viral trend of the same name, letting you upload a photo of you and up to four friends to transpose onto a dancing posse of Santa’s little helpers. Just don’t forget to share the results with everyone in your whole office.

Personalised Call from Santa | Android and iOS, Free

Looking for a way to light up your kids’ Christmas? Get them on the end of the phone with Santa! All you need to do is fill out your little’uns details (name, age, etc.) add a photo, then choose from one of 32 different video calls and messages, including conversations before, on and after Christmas. It’s a great way to instil some Christmas cheer and convince them to behave at the same time.

Google Santa Tracker | web app, Free

Ok, so it’s not an app per se, but be sure to add a shortcut to this site to your home screen to help kids keep tabs on the big man during Christmas eve. And in the meantime, there are bags of cool little mini games to get involved with, like coding a snowflake, an elf-centric ‘wrap battle’, and Google Assistant-based translations game. There’s also a nice selection of free learning resources around subjects like coding, all with a festive flavour.

Games

Spaceteam | Android and iOS, Free

Need something to bring the family together? In Spaceteam, it’s up to 2-4 players to man the spaceship command panel in their phone’s version of the app, barking orders at each other as they appear on screen to keep your communal craft in one piece. Sounds simple, but with each person helming different levers – and the tasks coming thick and fast – things swiftly devolve into hilarious, frenetic chaos.

Heads Up! | Android and iOS, Free

The 21st century equivalent of the old ‘stick a celebrity name on someone’s forehead’ game, Heads Up! Is a rapid fire, family-friendly guessing game with loads of modes and some smart extra features, like the ability to record everyone shouting clues or miming in your general direction with your phone’s selfie camera.

Donut County | iOS, £4.99

If you’d rather get some gaming time in by yourself over the break, why not play Apple’s App Store ‘Game of the Year’? Donut County is a narrative puzzler that sees you play as a roving, remote-controlled hole in the ground, swallowing up all and sundry on behalf of a naughty raccoon called BK. It’s as (do)nuts as it sounds, but also has a sweet, story-fuelled, gooey centre to get stuck into.

Life-savers

Amazon Prime Now | Android and iOS, Free

You’re wrapping the presents, nearing the end of an hour spent wrestling with tape, and you realise you’ve forgotten someone’s gift. Prime Now should be your go to app if you’re a Prime customer; it’s got millions of products – from gifts to food supplies – available with free two-hour delivery, or one-hour delivery for a small fee. You can even watch your delivery driver approach on a real-time map, which makes the process a bit like waiting for Santa.

Yes Chef | Free, iOS

There’s no need to get yourself in a tizz over cooking during the festive period; it’s never been easier to follow tasty recipes with the right apps. Yes Chef boasts over 350,000 dishes, each of which can be read aloud to you, letting you keep your hands where they should be – on the ingredients. Using natural language recognition, it’ll also answer questions as you bark them, like ‘What’s the next step?’ or ‘What temperature should I set the oven to?’

Google Keep | Android and iOS, Free

It’s Christmas Day, you’re opening a pile of presents, and then it dawns on you: you should really be writing down who got you what. Google Keep should be your answer here. It’s easily one of the best note-taking apps around because it’s clean, elegant, and saves everything to the cloud, but what makes it extra useful is the ability to tie your notes in with Google Reminders. The perfect tool for jogging yourself about getting those ‘thank you’ cards out once the dust has settled.

Entertainment

There are no better options for festive mobile entertainment than the apps our 4G entertainment partners offer. Opt for a Red Entertainment plan and you’ll get the choice of Spotify Premium, NOW TV Entertainment, Amazon Prime Video or Sky Sports Mobile TV subscriptions for up to two years, at no extra cost.

Here’s how to get the most out of them this Christmas:

Spotify | Android and iOS, Free

It’s no secret that Spotify is a music-streaming behemoth, but have you taken the time to dive into its ‘Season’s Greetings’ section? The Spotify team has curated an exhaustive list of Christmas music playlists, ranging from Bing Crosby classics, through to twinkly instrumentals. And Mariah, obviously. Get things started with some Christmas Crackers:

NOW TV Entertainment | Android and iOS, Free

You’ll unlock a huge range of top telly with a NOW TV Entertainment pass, including live content from 11 paid TV channels and over 300 boxsets. As far as seasonal telly goes, you could do far worse than binging on season 7 of Game of Thrones before the final season lands in April – winter has finally arrived, after all.

Amazon Prime Video | Android and iOS, Free

Amazon’s got an exhaustive list of TV shows and movies available to stream at no extra cost for Prime members, including its homegrown Amazon Originals. We suggest you give yourself a holly-jolly belly laugh or two with contemporary festive staple, Elf – probably one of Will Ferrell’s finest outings.

Sky Sports Mobile TV | Android and iOS, Free
Sports fans will know that Sky Sports is where your bread is buttered over Christmas, with Boxing Day being a calendar highlight for football fans in particular. This year we’ll have our eyes on Watford vs Chelsea, Fulham vs Wolves, and Brighton vs Arsenal – all available to stream live on Sky Sports Mobile TV. You can find more of December’s sporting highlights here.

Get more great apps… Check out our roundup of December’s best new (non-festive) apps.