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NORAD Tracks Santa

It was December 24, 1955, and U.S. Air Force Colonel Shoup, director of operations at CONAD (Continental Air Defence Command), received a call at his office in Colorado Springs. This was no ordinary call. It was coming in on one of the top secret phone lines. Colonel Shoup answered the phone expecting the Pentagon or a four-star general to be on the other end.

"Are you really Santa Claus?", a tiny voice asked.

It was from a little girl in Colorado Springs. She was following directions in a Sears department store advertisement that the local newspaper had run. The Sears ad told children they could call to find out how far along Santa Claus was on his trip and it even included a telephone number. But the number printed was off by one digit and instead of connecting with Santa, the callers were coming through to the Continental Air Defense Command!

Before long, the phone was ringing off the hook and Colonel Shoup, rather than hanging up, told his staff to give all the children that called in a "current location" for Santa Claus. It was the beginning of the Santa Tracker tradition. When the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) replaced CONAD in 1958, it took on the tradition.

NORAD's Santa Tracker has always made use of the media. From the 1950s to 1996, telephone hotlines, newspapers, radio and television were utilized. From 1997 to the present, the NORAD Santa Tracker has had a highly publicized Internet presence. A continuing partnership with Google started in 2006 to record the number of visitors to the Web site. Each year, the operation is modernized, and a partnership with Onstar corporation allows drivers equipped with the Onstar device to see where Santa is.

There are also Santa updates on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Today, there are millions of eyes, from more than 200 countries, watching Santa's progress on Christmas Eve through NORAD's Santa Tracker.

NORAD carries out the Santa Tracker operation with the assistance of many corporate partners and volunteers. There are more than 1,000 volunteers that answer calls and e-mails, and update the social media sites. Over the years, these volunteers have been countless numbers of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel members and their families. The Canadian NORAD fighter pilots are responsible for flying the CF-18s that welcome Santa to North America.

The program starts each year on December 1st with a "Countdown Village" on the Web site. It features the history of the Santa Tracker, a countdown to take-off, updates from Santa's Village, and games. On Christmas Eve, a map shows Santa's launch from the North Pole and tracks him as he makes his trip around the world.

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