As Santa Claus makes his way from chimney to chimney on Christmas Eve, many children find it nearly impossible to wait patiently until he arrives with present in white-gloved hand. To help pass the time as he and his reindeer complete the journey, the North American Aerospace Defense Command has come to the rescue for over 60 years with their NORAD Tracks Santa program giving kids the chance to follow along.
“In addition to our day-to-day mission of defending North America, we are proud to carry on the tradition of tracking Santa as he travels along his yuletide flight,” Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, said. “The same radars, satellites and interceptors employed on December 24 are used year-round to protect Canada and the United States.”
NORAD is a binational U.S. and Canadian Command charged with aerospace and maritime warning and aerospace control of North America, as well as monitoring aerospace activity globally. However, every year during the holidays, NORAD assumes the supplementary mission of tracking Santa as he travels around the world.
The NORAD Tracks Santa website, which launched Dec. 1, features a more mobile-friendly display this year complete with Santa’s North Pole Village, a holiday countdown, games, videos and more. Now in its 63rd year, NORAD Tracks Santa also provides a “Santa Cam” with streaming video, and on Christmas Eve a call center that will be operating around the clock can answer any questions about where Santa may be.
The decades-old NORAD tradition started oddly enough by accident with a misprinted phone number on a local media advertisement in 1955. The phone number, which promised children that it would lead to a conversation with Santa, instead directed them to Colonel Harry Shoup at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center—who did not disappoint.
“His responsibility at the time was to be looking out for any kind of Soviet threat, so you can imagine his serious stance at the time when he got that first mistaken phone call from the child,” NORAD spokesperson Cameron Hillier said. “It took him a minute to figure out it was a mistake, but then he just rolled with it and assured the child Santa would have a safe flight across the U.S.”
Now, having been established as a longstanding tradition among people of all ages, Hillier said that the NORAD Tracks Santa program brought in 126,000 phone calls last year during the 23 hours their operation center was open. This year, Hillier expects close to 150,000 phone calls.
Additionally, the program last year drew in 18 million unique website views, 1.8 million “likes” on Facebook, 180,000 followers on Twitter and countless emails and social media interactions throughout Christmas Eve last year.
“We’re proud to carry on Colonel Shoup’s tradition and it’s only grown over time,” Hillier said. “We’ve always had the phone calls, but there’s been evolution with the program and technology now.”
Official NORAD Tracks Santa apps are available in the Windows, Apple and Google Play stores, and tracking opportunities are offered on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Google +.
Starting as early as 3 a.m. Dec. 24, children from around the world can call 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out Santa’s exact location from a live phone operator. Windows Phone users can also ask Cortana for Santa’s location, and OnStar subscribers can press the OnStar button in their vehicles to locate Santa.
The NORAD Tracks Santa website can be found at www.noradsanta.org.