I’ve had my final advent calendar chocolate, there are presents everywhere – some to open, some to wrap – and elderly relatives to visit. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
I’ve just checked and the wonderful NORAD Santa Tracker and for some people on our planet the big man is already on his way. Even at the age of 60 I struggle to get my head round the fact that for some Christmas Day has already here and for others it won’t start until well after my presents have been opened. That fact truly messes with my concept of time.
I know Father Christmas is on the move – he’s already delivered over 12 million presents – thanks to the NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) Santa Tracker. Each year, since 1955, using radar and other technologies it has tracked Santa’s journey from the North Pole delivering presents to children all across the world.
As a growing child I thought that Santa’s feat was just fanciful but now with the advent of Amazon I think it’s highly possible..
It all started on December 24, 1948, when the United States Air Force issued a communique claiming that an “early warning radar net to the north” had detected “one unidentified sleigh powered by eight reindeer at 14,000 feet, heading 180 degrees.”
It became an annual event on December 24, 1955 when, according to legend, a Sears department store placed an advertisement in which they told children they could place a call to Santa Claus and included the number ME 2-6681.
The calls allegedly came through to Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command Center as one digit was misprinted. In some versions of the story, the calls were coming in to the “red telephone” hotline that connected CONAD directly to command authorities at the Strategic Air Command.
Colonel Harry Shoup, who was a Crew Commander on duty, answered the first call and supposedly told his staff to give all children who called in later a made-up “current location” for Santa Claus.
In 1958, the North America Air Defense Command (NORAD) took over the reporting responsibility from CONAD, and the reporting became more elaborate as the years passed. On December 24, 1960, for example, NORAD’s northern command post provided regular updates of a supposed sleigh operated by “S. Claus” which it identified as “undoubtedly friendly”.
Eventually, NORAD openly published a hotline number for the general public to call to get updates on Santa Claus’ supposed progress. Today, it relies on volunteers to make the programme possible. Each volunteer handles about 40 telephone calls per hour and the team typically handles more than 12,000 e-mails and more than 100,000 telephone calls from more than two hundred countries and territories.
Most of these contacts happen during the 20 hours from 4 a.m. on December 24 until midnight on December 25. A website called NORADSanta.org was established to allow access for Internet users.
In 2014, NORAD answered more than 100,000 phone calls. In 2018, more than 1,500 volunteers staffed the phone lines despite the shutdown of the US government. In December 2019, the noradsanta.org website received 8.9 million visitors.
This year, NORAD announced they would continue the Santa Tracker, despite Covid, with a limited number of volunteers answering calls. It’s great to see this wonderful tradition continuing in what has surely been the most challenging year since the service began. I hope it continues for ever more, a bit like Santa.