Every year NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, helps raise excitement and anticipation for Christmas morning when it puts its considerable resources to work tracking Santa’s journey for excited kids around the world. The impressive operation began as a fluke.
In 1955, Col. Harry Shoup, a crew commander at NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center, got a call from a child who had found his number in a newspaper ad. Except the number had been a misprint, and instead of going to Sears, was routed to Shoup. In some versions of the story the good colonel was understandably annoyed and was gruff with the child. Staff stepped up to help, answering further calls throughout the night, and a campaign even the best public relations firm couldn’t have dreamed up came to fruition.
Tracking Santa has become a massive undertaking. Around 70 people help set up the operation every year, which includes noradsanta.org, the official tracking website, phone lines, an app, and more. Then 500 volunteers, comprised of unit personnel, civilians, and their families come together on Christmas Eve to answer the phone calls.
As digital tools have expanded, the number of calls has diminished, but at one time a larger team was reported to have answered 200,000 calls throughout the night. Today the website receives about 11 million visitors. They’ve added an Amazon Alexa skill (“Alexa, ask NORAD Tracks, where’s Santa”) that is accessed more than 12 million times, and kids can track Santa via Facebook, Instagram, and X. But for that personal connection, kids can still call 800-HI-NORAD on Christmas Eve to speak to a volunteer, who will use one of NORAD’s 47 radar installations around North America to find Santa’s current position.