MIAMI — Today over 1,200 people from Canada and the US will join together at Peterson Air Force Base to track Santa Claus as he makes his annual trek around the world. The base, which houses the headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is expected to receive well over 50,000 calls from around the world throughout the day.
The program began, completely by accident, in 1955. Then thirty-eight year old Colonel Harry Shoup was working a shift at his post at the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs, CO (predecessor to NORAD) on Christmas Eve, when the phone started to ring on the center’s crisis line. But instead of a fellow serviceman conveying information about a global Cold War crisis, the voice of a child came across the line.
While initially dismissed as a one-off, the calls became harder to ignore as more and more children began calling the headquarters for North America’s joint air defenses. The children weren’t looking for an update on the national security, but rather to find out where Santa was. Col. Shoup, the story goes, realizing there had been some sort of error, wound up telling his staff to give the children what they wanted. And thus, a tradition was born.
Col. Shoup’s suspicions of an error wound up right on the money. Turns out a Sears Roebuck & Co. ad was misprinted in the newspaper – one number off. Instead of linking callers to a Santa-chat line the calls were instead put through, as we know, to CONAD (I really hope Col. Shoup’s first response was “how did you get this number?”).
While the original ad may have prompted kids to “dial ME 2-6681. Call me [Santa] on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night,”, anyone can now call 1-877-HI-NORAD for an update on the jolly man’s progress. The line opens at 0500ET on Christmas Eve and closes 24 hours later on Christmas morning. You can also use email (email@example.com) or follow on NORAD’s Facebook page (facebook.com/noradnorthcom) or Twitter (@NoradSanta).
For those who think that utilizing government military resources to track Mr. Claus through the skies around the world is a waste of money, fear not: the program is supported by generous donations from sponsors and everyone staffing the event volunteers their time.