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When will Santa get here? Track his flight Christmas Eve with NORAD

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Image from NORAD trailer. Image from NORAD trailer.
The Yule Blog, Dec. 21
4 days until Christmas

Aerospace defense team has been following Santa’s flight for 58 years

The countdown has begun.

Before the children are nestled all snug in their beds on Christmas Eve, wouldn’t they be relieved to know for sure that Santa Claus is on his way – and that he’s on schedule? I mean, it’s a long night for Santa, and he has to make millions of stops. It might ease little minds to know exactly when he will arrive in New Jersey, not to mention the parents who might be worried about putting the cookies and milk out too soon.

Thanks to the people at the North American Aerospace Defense Command and a typographical error made many years ago, children all over the world can track Santa’s course the minute he leaves the North Pole Dec. 24 to deliver gifts around the world.

NORAD counts down the seconds until Christmas. NORAD counts down the seconds until Christmas.

NORAD is a North American air defense operation based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. It surveys the skies over the United States and Canada and also monitors sea approaches. At Christmastime, NORAD puts its military sensors, radar and other technology to work to help children follow Santa’s route.

People all across the world can track St. Nick and his eight tiny reindeer as they make their way around the globe in his magic sleigh. 

Its website, noradsanta.org, goes live every year on Dec. 1. In addition to tracking Santa, it offers a number of activities to keep kids busy. The main page has a counter that clicks off the days, hours, minutes and seconds until Santa’s departs. From there, children are taken to Santa’s Village at the North Pole, where they can click on a building and listen to Santa’s favorite holiday songs, play a new arcade game every day, watch videos about Santa and NORAD, browse the “secret Santa files,” read about holiday traditions around the world and learn details about Santa’s magic sleigh (width: 40 candy canes; length: 150 lollipops; climbing speed: 1 T, or twinkling of an eye; maximum speed: faster than starlight).

The Sears ad that sparked a tradition. The Sears ad that sparked a tradition.

The tradition started in 1955 after an advertising gimmick by Sears Roebuck & Co. went awry. According to NORAD, Sears placed an ad in a Colorado Springs, Colo., newspaper promoting a “hotline” kids could call to talk to Santa. However, one of the digits in the telephone number was off, and instead of reaching Santa, the number put kids through to the crisis line of the commander in chief’s office at NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command based in Colorado Springs.

The man who answered the phone was director of operations Col. Harry Shoup.

The conversation went something like this:

"Yes, Sir, this is Colonel Shoup."

Silence.

“Sir? This is Colonel Shoup,” he said again.

More silence.

“Sir?" "Can you read me alright?”

Finally a little girl spoke up.

"Are you really Santa Claus?" she asked. 

Shoup demanded to know who was calling. 

 "Is this one of Santa's elves, then?" the girl on the line asked.

At first Shoup guessed it might be a prank, but then he thought maybe the phone lines got crossed – something that happened in those days. He decided to play along. 

“Yes, I am,” he answered the caller. “Have you been a good little girl?"

More calls began coming in. Shoup grabbed an airman who was standing nearby and told him to answer the calls, too

He had his staff check radar data to see if there was any indication of Santa making his way south from the North Pole, and indeed, there were signs of Santa. Children who called in were given an update on Santa’s position, and a tradition was born, according to NORAD’s Santa site.

Santa reviews his flight plan in the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command Current Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Sept. 26, 2013./U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Kucharek Santa reviews his flight plan in the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command Current Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Sept. 26, 2013./U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Kucharek

In 1958, when NORAD was formed, it continued to offer a "Santa tracking" service to anyone who called in, especially on Dec. 24. The tradition has evolved and grown to the point that the people who answer the calls now include Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel and hundreds of volunteers. It was reported that in 2011, even Michelle Obama answered calls.

Shoup died in 2009, but NORAD continues to carry on his legacy. Last year the Santa tracker website attracted 22.3 million unique visitors from around the globe.

However, NORAD came under fire this year when it released a trailer about the Santa tracker. The 39-second video shows Santa’s sleigh being escorted by two fighter jets – a depiction that children’s advocacy groups and other organizations claim has introduced violence and militarism to a beloved tradition, according to huffingtonpost.com.

Officials defended the video and said the jets are nothing new. NORAD depicted jets accompanying Santa in the 1960s, and the fighters in the 2013 video are unarmed, one spokesman reportedly pointed out.

Nevertheless, millions of people will be following as NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve via via satellite, radar and other means.

In addition, this year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be helping NORAD track Santa Claus. The NOAA, via its Satellite Command and Data Acquisition Station in Fairbanks, Alaska, will maintain a satellite watch of the North Pole to monitor weather conditions and any unusual activity, according to a news release.

Marine Corps Staff Sgts. Hugh Wood and Randall Ayers take calls at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center Dec. 24, 2012. The Marines came to the center to collect toys for the Toys for Tots program and took a break to participate in NORAD Tracks Santa./U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher Marine Corps Staff Sgts. Hugh Wood and Randall Ayers take calls at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center Dec. 24, 2012. The Marines came to the center to collect toys for the Toys for Tots program and took a break to participate in NORAD Tracks Santa./U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher

NORAD will answer children's questions on its comprehensive, six-language Santa tracking website at www.noradsanta.org. Visual and audio updates will be posted hourly from 7 a.m. Eastern Standard Time Dec. 24 to 5 a.m. EST Dec. 25.

All site material, including the live tracking, is available in English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian and Brazilian Portuguese. You can also track Santa on a cellphone via a free app or by calling 877-446-6723. For more information see the website or NORAD Santa on Facebook.

To watch a video on how it all began, see http://www.youtube.com/user/NORADTracksSanta?feature=watch.

NORAD tracks Santa with some help from Google Maps.

The Yule Blog is a day-to-day countdown to Christmas featuring a new story each day. Click the links below to read other stories in the series.

Nov. 29: Best shopping apps put you where the buys are.

Nov. 30: Small Business Saturday gives independent shops their turn to shine.

Dec. 1: Before there was 'Elf,' there was 'The Santaland Diaries.'

Dec. 2: Historic Smithville has plenty of old-fashioned Christmas spirit to go around

Dec. 3: Earth-friendly gifts help preserve the world's green assets.

Dec. 4: Great gift ideas for the cook

Dec. 5: Let Cape May kindle your Christmas spirit

Dec. 6: The worst and the weirdest Christmas films

Dec. 7: How to take the perfect holiday portrait

Dec. 8: Will South Jersey have a White Christmas in 2013?

Dec. 9: Don't risk a home fire this winter

Dec. 10: In the kitchen with grandma: How to make 6-layer Neapolitan cookies

Dec. 11: 12 (relatively) new songs for Christmas

Dec. 12: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 1

Dec. 13: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 2

Dec. 14: How to make Razzleberry Dressing

Dec. 15: Last-minute make-it gift: Peppermint Patty Martini

Dec. 16: Dennisville Christmas House Tour connects past and present

Dec. 17: Snow day survival guide

Dec. 18: Best all-time Christmas songs

Dec. 19: 5 handy gifts for the home baker

Dec. 20: Cookie swaps sweeten the holidays if you can avoid the jams

Dec. 21: When will Santa get here? Track his flight Christmas Eve with NORAD

DEc. 22: Presents for pets - and pet lovers

Dec. 23: Best children's books get to the heart of Christmas

Dec. 24: Feast of the 7 Fishes is a Christmas Eve tradition for many Italians

Dec. 25: People all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus


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