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How NORAD Started Tracking Santa

Santa
Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images

You probably know the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, maintains an online Santa Tracker that gives St. Nick’s pinpoint location as he progresses from chimney to chimney on Christmas Eve. What you probably don’t know is how it all started.

According to NORADSanta.org, it started almost 60 years ago when Sears came up with a ploy to get kids even more involved in the holidays. They published a series of newspaper ads with phone numbers for kids to call and talk directly with Santa at the North Pole. Everything was fine except the Colorado Springs version of the ad contained a typo and mistakenly gave the number for the military crisis hotline at CONAD, which was NORAD’s predecessor. On Christmas Eve 1955 a Colonel Shoup picked up the phone and eventually realized there was a crying little girl on the other end upset that she couldn’t speak to Santa Claus. He made a decision that would have long reaching consequences. He chose to play along.

“Yes, I am,” he finally said. “Have you been a good little girl?”

More calls came in. Shoup grabbed an airman and ordered him to help answer the calls, telling him, “Just pretend you’re Santa!”

Soon the pretending evolved and the staff was not only talking with the children as Santa but also giving informational updates about where he was as he made his way around the globe. And a tradition was born.

In 1958 when NORAD was formed, it continued to offer a “Santa Tracking” service to anyone who called in. Over the years it eventually evolved into this handy dandy NORAD Santa Tracking site.

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