Santa Claus is preparing to set off to deliver gifts to everyone who managed to avoid ending up on 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 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 can 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.
For the 67th year now, NORAD is gearing up to carry out its unique duty. From December 24, 2022, children ‒ and adults ‒ will be able to access a special website (www.noradsanta.org) to know Santa’s whereabouts through an interactive map, or by calling NORAD’s hotline.
The website is available to trackers from around the world, in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.