“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house; children tracked Santa Claus with computer and mouse.“ – Charisse Van Horn
As Christmas approaches, children worldwide are engaging in a wonderful activity known as the NORAD Santa Tracker. The program offers holiday games until the big day, Christmas Eve, occurs. For on Christmas Eve, the Santa tracker goes live and children can watch from their computers as Santa journeys across the earth. What might be surprising for some to discover, however, is that the NORAD Santa Tracker began with an accident.
NORAD stands for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint organization between the United States and Canada, which provides aerospace monitoring and warnings as a system of defense for both countries. NORAD’s motto is “Deter, Detect, Defend.” The organization exists with the purpose of defending North America from foreign, military attacks. So how does a defense organization become the number one resource for tracking Santa Claus’ location every Christmas Eve, you may ask. The answer is found in a typo.
Journey back to Christmas Eve, December 24, 1955 and Sears Roebuck & Company offered a nice service for children that Christmas. Creating an ad that was placed in the newspaper, Sears intended to offer children an opportunity to call Santa Claus and speak with him directly. The ad stated, “Hey kiddies! Call me direct. Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally, any time day or night.”
What child wouldn’t be delighted at the chance to call and speak with Santa Claus? Interestingly, on the right side of the original Sears ad it stated, “Kiddies, be sure and dial the correct number.” The top of the ad posted the number, “Just dial ME 2-6681.” Amazingly, the Sears ad had printed the secret number for what was then NORAD’s hotline. In 1955, NORAD was known as the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) and the number printed on the ad was to be used in case of an attack by the Soviet Union. Needless to say, CONAD/NORAD’s phone was ringing off the hook with children wishing to speak to Santa Claus.
The first child must have been disillusioned, because according to reports from NORAD, Colonel Harry Shoup answered the phone and was filled with disbelief when a six-year-old boy asked if he was Santa Claus. NORAD describes the conversation as follows:
Six-year old boy: Are you really Santa Claus?
Colonel Shoup: Would you repeat that?
Six-year old boy: Is this one of Santa’s elves then?
The report states that Colonel Shoup thought someone was playing a trick on him and the young boy hung up the phone in tears.
It did not take long for Colonel Shoup to realize a mistake had happened and the phone continued to ring with anxious children waiting to speak to Santa Claus. Colonel Shoup, faced with what could have been one of the nation’s most significant crises, rose to the challenge, and pretended to be one of Santa’s helpers. He even took the initiative and instructed his co-workers to join in the charade. Going one step further, he then provided the children with updates that tracked Santa Claus’ location according to radar reports.
Thanks to Colonel Shoup and his willingness not to break the dreams of American children, the NORAD Santa Tracker was officially born. Colonel Shoup was later referred to as the Santa Colonel, due to his actions.
The story received plenty of news coverage and in 1956, on Christmas Eve, CONAD’s phone began ringing off the hook again. This time, the children did not ask to speak to Santa Claus, but wanted an update from the radar reports of Santa Claus and his reindeers’ location. In 1958, CONAD became NORAD, but the tradition of the Santa Claus Tracker was firmly established. The practice continued over the years through the hotline and radio broadcasts, but would eventually go online. On Christmas Eve, 1997, the Internet saw the first Santa Claus NORAD tracker and the site continues to be a huge success every Christmas.
As technology continues to change and become more advanced, so too does the NORAD Santa Tracker. In 2007, NORAD and Google joined forces and Google incorporated Santa’s journey on Google Maps. NORAD Tracks Santa is now on social media networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and has its own YouTube channel. Though many children in the 21st century utilize new methods to track Santa, NORAD continues to operate their hotline every Christmas Eve. They also accept e-mails.
Sadly, Colonel Harry Shoup passed away on March 14, 2009, but his legacy as Santa Colonel lives on as children throughout North America continue to track Santa Claus every Christmas Eve.
- Santa Tracker on Google
- Santa Tracker Countdown
- CONELRAD: Listen to Recordings from the 50s and 60s of NORAD tracking Santa
- Listen to the entire flight plan of Santa from the 60s
- Video of Colonel Harry Shoup
- NORAD Tracks Santa on Facebook
- NORAD Santa on Twitter
- NORAD Hotline (begins at 6:00 a.m., ET on Christmas Eve) 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723)
- NORAD E-Mail
- NORAD Photos on Picasa