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NORAD begins annual mission to track Santa Claus on Christmas Eve

The program began in 1955 by fluke, when a child called the military to ask about Santa on Christmas Eve.

Updated: December 23, 2020 - 11:03pm

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The North American Air Defense Command says it believes "Santa is alive and well," and has issued its annual Christmas Eve tracking advisory for families awaiting a visit from St. Nick.

Beginning in the wee hours of Christmas Eve, the NORAD Tracks Santa website will carry updates on Santa Claus and his sleigh, as revealed via radar.

Normally, the dual-national NORAD keeps watch over the United States and Canada, keeping tabs on security. The organization tracks everything that flies over and near North America - including, on Christmas Eve, the international whereabouts of Santa Claus.

The Colorado-based command revealed this month that Santa holds the rank of admiral, and is assigned to Naval Air Station North Pole. As part of the announcement, NORAD released a graphic depicting Santa's Temporary Duty (TDY) orders, authorizing him to spread cheer on Christmas Eve.

As part of the program, Santa-watchers can track the jolly old elf's progress on the dedicated website, or by calling directly, said NORAD's Maj. Jen Jones. Because of COVID-19, the call center will have fewer volunteers, Jones said, but the show definitely will go on. 

The program began in 1955 by fluke, when an ad for a Sears Roebuck store in Colorado Springs carried a misprinted phone number. Instead of directing callers to a line for Santa Claus, the number rang at the operations "hotline" for NORAD's predecessor. The colonel who answered the call found himself talking to a child asking for Santa. The colonel played along, Jones said, and checked the radar for Santa's whereabouts.

From there, Jones said, the tradition carried forward. Now in its 65th year, the program is a staple in many families' Christmas celebrations, she said.

Others besides NORAD have joined in to bolster children's holiday spirits, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public health figure Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a televised children's town hall last week that he personally had flown to the North Pole and vaccinated Santa against coronavirus. The New York state health department, for its part, announced Monday that it granted a quarantine waver to Santa for traveling on Christmas Eve.

Families wanting to track Santa's sleigh via phone can call 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723).

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