By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The North American Aerospace Defense Command is celebrating the 60th Anniversary of tracking Santa’s yuletide journey around the globe. The “NORAD Tracks Santa” website is available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.
The website went live on December 1. New this year, the website features the NORAD Headquarters in the North Pole Village, and highlights of the program over the past 60 years. It includes a holiday countdown, games, activities, and more.
Official NORAD Tracks Santa apps are also available in the Windows, Apple and Google Play stores, so parents and children can use their smart phones and tablets to countdown the days until Santa’s world tour begins.
“Tracking Santa with NORAD has become a tradition in so many families around the world,” said award winning actor and Santa Tracker Gary Sinese during a visit to the NORAD Command Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “And it’s wonderful to know that the men and women of NORAD are on watch 24 hours a day protecting the United States and Canada. Happy Holidays everyone.”
On the Be Merry Santa facebook page, Santa Claus himself recognized NORAD’s efforts saying, “Today, I’m celebrating 60 Years with my good friends at NORAD Tracks Santa. They started keeping the Watch for me during my Christmas Eve flight back in 1955. You can follow our magical journey together at www.noradsanta.org.”
Beginning at 12:01 a.m. MST (1:01 a.m. CST) on Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24, website visitors can watch Santa make preparations for his flight. NORAD’s “Santa Cams” will stream videos on the website as Santa makes his way over various locations.
At 4 a.m. MST (5 a.m. CST), trackers worldwide can speak with a live phone operator to inquire as to Santa’s whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to n[email protected].
Any time on December 24, Windows Phone users can ask Cortana (the voice-controlled virtual assistant for Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1) for Santa’s location, and OnStar subscribers can press the OnStar button in their vehicles to locate Santa.
The concept of tracking Santa began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa directly. The number actually reached Colonel Harry Shoup‘s secret hotline at the Continental Air Defense Command, now known as NORAD.
In the 1950’s the US was dealing with the ‘cold war’ and Col. Shoup had a phone exclusive only to himself and a four star general at the Pentagon to alert him if there was an attack on the United States.
When Shoup answered to hear a small voice say, “Is this Santa Clause?” he went along and asked the caller if ‘he’d “been a good boy that year.” Soon, the calls began to pour in.
Back at the Combat Alert Center, the large glass display board used to track planes flying over the US and Canada soon showed a sleigh with eight reindeer coming over the North Pole.
The Colonel had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south on his world tour and children who called were given updates on his location.
Col. Shoup soon became known as the “Santa Colonel.”
In 1958, Canada and the US created a bi-national air defense command called the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, which then took on the tradition of tracking Santa.
Every Christmas Eve, thousands of volunteers staff telephones and computers to answer calls and e-mails from children and adults from around the world.
Live updates are provided through the NORAD Tracks Santa Web site over telephone lines, and by e-mail to keep children and their families informed about Santa’s whereabouts.
Each year, the NORAD Tracks Santa website receives nearly nine million visitors from more than 200 countries around the world.
In addition, volunteers receive over 12,000 e-mails and more than 70,000 calls to the NORAD Tracks Santa hotline from children around the globe.
The NORAD Tracks Santa program delights generations of families everywhere in large part due to the efforts and services of numerous program supporters.
This year’s contributors include: the 21st Space Wing, 140th Wing, Acuity Scheduling, Alaska NORAD Region, America Forces Network (AFN), Analytical Graphics, Inc., Avaya, BeMerry! Santa / Noerr Programs, Bing®, Canadian NORAD Region, Chirpon, The Citadel Mall, Civil Air Patrol, Christmas in the Park, Colorado Springs Business Alliance, Continental NORAD Region, CradlePoint, Defense Video & Imagery Distribution Systems, DoD News, The Elf on the Shelf, Extended Stay America, Federal Aviation Administration, Getty Images, Globelink Foreign Language Center, Harris, Hewlett Packard (HP), iLink-Systems, Kids.gov, Level 3 Communications, Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, Meshbox, Microsoft®, Naden Band of Maritime Forces Pacific, National Tree Lighting Ceremony, Naturally Santa’s Inc., Office Depot/Office Max, OneRender, PCI Broadband, Portable North Pole/Ugroup Media, Pueblo Riverwalk, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Colorado, Save the Children, Sears, Space Foundation, Spil Games, SiriusXM®, Strategic Air & Space Museum, Unity, U.S. Air Force Academy Band, U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West, U.S. Air Force Band of the West, U.S. Air Force Band, U.S. Air Force Heartland of America Band, U.S. Army Ground Forces Band, U.S. Band of MidAmerica, U.S. Coast Guard Band, U.S. Department of State Family Liaison Office, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, U.S. Postal Service, Verizon, Visionbox, West Point Band, Windows Azure, and Xtomic.