Santa Claus is about to set off to deliver gifts to everyone who avoided this year’s naughty list. Children will search the night skies, hoping to catch a glimpse of the reindeer-powered sleigh.
To help them in their quest, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will use some of its assets to track down Santa on Christmas Eve. The organization took on this special duty back in 1955.
According to legend, a child was trying to reach Santa’s hotline, created by the chain of department stores Sears, misdialed the number and instead called Colonel Harry Shoup, on duty that night at the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD). NORAD’S predecessor, CONAD was founded in 1954 during the Cold War, tasked with continuously monitoring US the airspace for any air or space attack. Shoup, who became known as the Santa Colonel, saw an opportunity to bring public recognition to their year-round mission.
Just before Christmas 1955, a press release was sent to the Associated Press, stating: “CONAD, Army, Navy, and Marine Air Forces will continue to track and guard Santa and his sleigh on his trip to and from the US against possible attack from those who do not believe in Christmas.”
From that moment, a special hotline was created for children eager to know if the gift delivery is going well. In 1958, when NORAD took over as a bi-national organization in charge of defending both the US and Canada, it inherited the seasonal duty now called “NORAD Tracks Santa”.
Years went by and innovations made Santa increasingly trackable, overcoming some of his sleigh’s stealth properties. According to NORAD, defense satellites equipped with infrared sensors are able to track the heat signature of Rudolf’s nose with pinpoint accuracy. To ensure Santa succeeds in distributing his gifts to Northern American children, NORAD scrambles two F/A-18 fighters to provide him with an escort.
From the recently renamed Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado, the hotline has been operational for the past 66 years. However, like last year, NORAD has warned that due to the exceptional circumstances of the COVID pandemic, the number of phone operators will be reduced, and callers might hear a recorded message. Alternatively, children ‒ and adults ‒ are able to access a special website with a countdown for Mr. Claus’s journey. And on the big night, the website will feature an interactive map showing Santa’s whereabouts live.
Alternatively, Google offers its own Santa Tracker, though, inexplicably, its readings may differ.