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U.S. and Canadian Air Defenses Tracking Santa Claus on his Christmas Eve Flight
A Fifty Plus Year Tradition
Every year since I was a child the front page of the morning papers on Christmas day have always carried a little notice from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs announcing that a sleigh, pulled by eight reindeer, in the sky heading south from the North Pole had been picked up on its radar during the night.
NORAD is the joint U.S. - Canadian military group charged with scanning the skies over North America for early warning about hostile bombers or missiles headed toward North America.
The accounts always stated that, since the sleigh and reindeer posed no hostile threat, no planes were scrambled to intercept and the sleigh was allowed to continue peacefully through U.S. and Canadian airspace.
Keeping Children Entertained on December 24th
The NORAD press release tradition has continued and, in 1998 NORAD launched the NORAD Tracks Santa website.
The website, NORADSanta.org, which is available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese, has maps showing where in the world Santa is currently located, a tracker showing how many presents have been delivered, videos and other activities.
Because times are different in different parts of the world Santa's Christmas Eve journey begins before dawn in North America on December 24th. This gives children in North America something to all day while they await nightfall.
The Santa tracking project has continued to grow and, in addition to the NORADSanta.org website, hundreds of volunteers assemble each December 24th at Peterson AFB, home of the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado to answer phone calls from children and post updates on Facebook and Twitter.
The toll free telephone number, 1-877-HI-NORAD (877-446-6723) lets children call in to check on Santa's progress. The volunteers also post updates on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/noradsanta and Twitter at https://twitter.com/NoradSanta.
NORAD Tracks Santa 2008
A Cold War Christmas Tradition Continues
NORAD's Santa tracking tradition started by accident in 1955 when an ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper mistakenly printed NORAD's phone number rather than the intended number and a child dialed the number asking about the whereabouts of Santa on that Christmas Eve.
Despite the fact that it was a wrong number, the people at NORAD dutifully played along and reassured the child that they had indeed detected Santa on their radar as he was en route to deliver toys.
The Cold War was at its height and there was a perfectly valid fear that if the former Soviet Union decided to launch a bomber attack (the ability to launch a missile attack was still about five years away at that time) the shortest route to targets in North America would be to fly over the North Pole.
For this reason the U.S. and Canada had advance radar tracking stations in distant Greenland and Alaska (which was not yet a state in 1955) as well as northern Canada and other sites around North America.
The command center coordinating this defense is located outside of Colorado Springs. Defense is serious business and the threat of a nuclear attack by bombers, and later missiles, was very real during the Cold War.
© 2006 Chuck Nugent