In 1955, Colorado Springs-based Sears and Roebuck Co. ran an advertisement at Christmastime urging children to call Santa Claus. The phone number was misprinted in the ad. Instead of reaching Santa, the call was put through to a hotline answered by Col. Harry Shoup, director of operations at the Continental Air Defense Command.
Shoup instructed his staff to check the radar for Santa’s whereabouts as he made his way south from the North Pole. Children who called the hotline were given updates at to Santa’s location, and a tradition was born.
In 1958, the United States and Canada formed the bi-national North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD, and took over the job of tracking Santa. Since then, the men and women of NORAD, along with an army of volunteers, have answered calls and emails from children tracking Santa from all over the world.
How does NORAD track Santa? It uses high-tech radar, fighter jets, satellites and, of course, “Santa cams” stationed in strategic locations around the world. The satellites know exactly when Santa lifts off. Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature that allows the satellites to detect the reindeer-led sleigh. The Santa cams are only used once a year to capture video of Santa’s travels.
NORAD has stepped up its game and created the NORAD Tracks Santa website, which tracks Santa online using Google Earth. It also has games for kids to play in the “Countdown Village” section of the website. The website has videos submitted by participating schools from all over the world. They speak to Santa and give a little background of the country from which they are broadcasting.
The website is dedicated to the memory of the first Santa tracker. “I have the greatest admiration for Col. Shoup and found delight in his remarkable humor with taking the first-ever call regarding Santa’s whereabouts back in 1955,” said former NORAD Commander and retired Gen. Victor Renaurt Jr. “His kind and thoughtful gesture will forever be a legacy at NORAD, and with the millions of people around the world who follow the NORAD Tracks Santa program each year. Truly, forever in the minds of millions, he will be fondly remembered as the ‘Santa Colonel,’ and his legend will live on forever.”
NORAD will start tracking Santa on Christmas Eve. If you can’t wait to track Santa this year, you can watch highlights from his 2010 journey in the video below.
There is a little kid in all of us at Christmastime, and I, for one, can’t wait to track Santa on Christmas Eve.
I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!
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