PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — For kids who can’t wait for Santa to arrive, the North American Aerospace Defense Command has a Christmas treat. Visions of sugar plums can be augmented by a check on the fabled fat man’s progress around the globe on Christmas Eve. Here are five things to know about the holiday tradition called NORAD Tracks Santa:
1. HOW DO YOU FOLLOW SANTA’S PATH?
NORAD provides updates online, by phone, Facebook, Twitter and email.
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Phone: 877-HI-NORAD. If you get through, an operator will give you an update.
Smartphone apps also are available at app stores.
NORAD’s Santa operations center opened at 6 a.m. EST on Dec. 24 and has received tens of thousands of calls from around the world. This year, Santa’s first stop after leaving the North Pole was Novoye Chaplino, Russia, NORAD said. The Canadian naval ship Regina reported seeing Santa on its radar near the Arabian Sea. Santa usually ends his trip in North America and South America. “Santa calls the shots,” NORAD says on its website. “We just track him!”
2. HOW MANY PEOPLE FOLLOW SANTA?
Last year, volunteers answered 114,000 phone calls from around the world. The website had 22.3 million unique visitors. NORAD Tracks Santa had 1.2 million followers on Facebook and 129,000 on Twitter.
Among the questions kids have had on their minds when they called in previous years:
• “Am I on the nice list or the naughty list?”
• “Can you put my brother on the naughty list?”
• “Are you an elf?”
• “How much to adopt one of Santa’s reindeer?”
3. WHY DOES NORAD DO IT?
In 1955, a local newspaper advertisement invited children to call Santa but mistakenly listed the hotline of NORAD’s predecessor. Rather than disappoint the kids, commanders told them they indeed knew where Santa was. NORAD, a U.S.-Canadian operation based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., continues the tradition every Christmas Eve.
4. WHY WAS THERE CONTROVERSY THIS YEAR?
A children’s advocacy group complained that an animated video on the NORAD Tracks Santa website injected militarism into Christmas by showing fighter jets escorting Santa’s sleigh on a 39-second video promoting the event. NORAD says the fighter escort is nothing new. NORAD began depicting jets accompanying Santa and his reindeer in the 1960s.
5. HOW DOES NORAD TRACK SANTA?
Using the same satellites it uses to track missiles, NORAD says it is able to detect heat signatures from Rudolph’s nose.
6. WHO IS THAT ON THE LINE?
A handful of kids calling to pinpoint Santa’s progress on his Christmas Eve journey may have been surprised to hear Michelle Obama’s voice on the other end of the line.
The first lady is vacationing with President Barack Obama and their daughters in Hawaii, but spent about a half-hour Tuesday manning the phones for NORAD.
Around the time Mrs. Obama was taking calls, NORAD’s tracker showed Santa and his reindeer making their way through Europe.
It’s the fourth year the first lady has taken part in the tradition.