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NORAD Tracks Santa

File:NORAD Tracks Santa.png
The emblem of NORAD Tracks Santa.

NORAD Tracks Santa is an annual Christmas-themed entertainment program, which has existed since 1955,[1] produced under the auspices of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Every year on Christmas Eve, "NORAD Tracks Santa" purports to track Santa Claus as he leaves the North Pole and delivers presents to children around the world.

The program is in the tradition of the September 1897 editorial "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" in the New York Sun.[2]

History and overview

File:Why NORAD Tracks Santa.jpg
1955 Sears ad with the misprinted telephone number that led to the NORAD Tracks Santa Program
File:NEADS - NORAD - Xmas - 2008-12-21.jpg
This publicity picture for NORAD Tracks Santa shows two Northeastern Air Defense Sector members with radar equipment in December 2008.
File:NORAD - Canada - Santa Radar Tracking.jpg
This publicity picture shows two members of Canadian Forces with radar screens.

The program began on December 24, 1955, when a Sears department store placed an advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper which told children that they could telephone Santa Claus and included a number for them to call. However, the telephone number printed was misprinted and calls instead came through to Colorado Springs' Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center. Colonel Harry Shoup, who was on duty that night, told his staff to give all children who called in a "current location" for Santa Claus. A tradition began which continued when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) replaced CONAD in 1958.[3]

Today, NORAD relies on volunteers to make the program possible.[4] Each volunteer handles about forty telephone calls per hour, and the team typically handles more than 12,000 e-mails and more than 70,000 telephone calls from more than two hundred countries and territories. Most of these contacts happen during the twenty-five hours from 2 a.m. on December 24 until 3 a.m. MST on December 25.[3][4] Google Analytics has been in use since December 2007 to analyze traffic at the NORAD Tracks Santa website. As a result of this analysis information, the program can project and scale volunteer staffing, telephone equipment, and computer equipment needs for Christmas Eve.[5] Volunteers include NORAD military and civilian personnel.[6]

Website and other media

The NORAD Tracks Santa program has always made use of a variety of media. From the 1950s to 1996, these were the telephone hotline, newspapers, radio, phonograph records and television. Many television newscasts in North America feature NORAD Tracks Santa as part of their weather updates on Christmas Eve.

From 1997 to the present, the program has had a highly publicized internet presence. As mobile media and social media have become popular and widespread as methods of direct communication, these newer media have also been embraced by the program.[7][8] The layout of the NORAD Tracks Santa website and its webpages have changed from 1997 to the present due to changes in internet technologies, and changes in partners and sponsors for a particular year.

Between 2004 and 2009, people who visited the NORAD Tracks Santa site were told they could "track" Santa in Google Earth.[9] They were given a link to download Google Earth, and then a KMZ file to download. From 2009-2011, the tracking in Google Earth has been done from the NORAD Santa site, and there is no KMZ file for Google Earth anymore.[10] In 2011, an iOS and Android application was introduced, which features updates and an interactive game similar to Angry Birds.[11]

From mid-January until November 30, when one arrives at the NORAD Tracks Santa website, one is greeted with a message to come back on December 1 to "track Santa with NORAD". During December, one finds a NORAD Tracks Santa website with all the features available. On Christmas Eve, the NORAD Tracks Santa website videos page is generally updated each hour, when it is midnight in a different time zone. The "Santa Cam" videos show CGI images of Santa Claus flying over famous landmarks. Each video was accompanied by a voice-over until the end of the 2011 season, typically done by NORAD personnel, giving a few facts about the city or country depicted.[12] Celebrity voice-overs have also been used over the years. For the London "Santa Cam" video, English television personality and celebrity Jonathan Ross did the voice-over for 2005 to 2007 and the former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr narrated the same video in 2003 and 2004.[13][14] In 2002, Aaron Carter provided the voice-over for three videos.[15]

The locations and landmarks depicted in some of the "Santa Cam" videos have changed over the years. In 2009, twenty-nine "Santa Cam" videos were posted on the website. In previous years, twenty-four to twenty-six videos had been posted.

NORAD reported that for Christmas 2013, it logged 19.58 million unique visitors to its website on Christmas Eve, and 1,200 volunteers answered 117,371 calls. Through social media, it had 146,307 Twitter followers and 1.45 million "likes" on Facebook.[16] That year, NORAD contracted with Bing Maps to provide 2D map tracking, ending a five-year contract with Google.[17]

Sponsorship and publicity

NORAD Tracks Santa relies on corporate sponsorship, and is financed by neither American nor Canadian taxpayers.[18][4][19]

U.S. military units that have provided publicity for the program include the Northeast Air Defense Sector of the New York Air National Guard and the U.S. Naval Reserve Navy Information Bureau (NIB) 1118 at Fort Carson, Colorado.[20][21] Other U.S. federal agencies, such as NASA and NOAA, have helped publicize the service,[22][23][24][25][26] as have the Canadian Forces.[27][28][29] First Lady Michelle Obama has participated in the program each year since 2009, answering phone calls.[30][31]

According to Gerry Bowler, a history professor at the University of Manitoba, the NORAD Tracks Santa program is "one of the few modern additions to the centuries-old Santa Claus story that have stuck." Bowler stated that the program "takes an essential element of the Santa Claus story — his travels on Christmas Eve — and looks at it through a technological lens," therefore bringing the Santa Claus mythology into the modern era.[32]


  1. ^ "Why we track Santa". Archived from the original on December 24, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Is There a Santa Claus?". NORAD via December 2009. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "NORAD Tracks Santa". Archived from the original on December 24, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Terdiman, Daniel (December 24, 2009). "Behind the scenes: NORAD's Santa tracker". Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  5. ^ Gillis, Jeff (December 9, 2008). "Santa Tracking with NORAD and Google Analytics". Google Analytics. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  6. ^ Associated Press (December 29, 2011). "NORAD's Santa trackers break own records for calls, emails, Facebook and Twitter followers". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 1, 2012. 
  7. ^ Franklin, Curt (December 24, 2009). "NORAD Deploys Network For Watching Santa". Network Computing. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  8. ^ Gordhamer, Soren (February 8, 2010). "5 Levels of Effective Communication in the Social Media Age". Retrieved February 10, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Track Santa in Google Earth". Retrieved December 24, 2011. 
  10. ^ Martin, Jeffery (December 23, 2009). "This year, Santa is totally plugged in". Google Geo Developers. Retrieved December 24, 2011. 
  11. ^ Elliott, Dan (December 22, 2011). "NORAD Santa trackers stand by for another big day". The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 24, 2011. 
  12. ^ Sullivan, Danny (December 23, 2009). "From NORAD Santa Tracker To Twitter: Santa Tracking For Christmas Eve 2009". Search Engine Land. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  13. ^ Phillips, Michael (December 2, 2003). "'Starr' helps NORAD track Santa". (United States Air Force). Archived from the original on December 12, 2012. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  14. ^ "NORAD Missile Agency Tracks Santa By Satellite". Sky News. December 24, 2007. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  15. ^ Gelman, Jason (November 25, 2002). "Aaron Carter Named NORAD's Honorary Santa Tracker". Yahoo! News. Archived from the original on November 7, 2012. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  16. ^ "NORAD Tracks Santa logs 19.58 million web visits". Associated Press. December 27, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2014. 
  17. ^ Blagdon, Jeff (December 19, 2013). "Google keeps tracking Santa despite NORAD's switch to Bing". The Verge. Retrieved December 24, 2013. 
  18. ^ Dendy, John B. (December 2000). "Santa Trackers.Org". Airman Magazine. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  19. ^ Roeder, Tom (December 24, 2007). "NORAD will track Santa's trip". The Gazette. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  20. ^ Davis, Brooke (December 21, 2007). "New York Guardsmen Lend Help to Track Santa's Flight Path". New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  21. ^ Brian, Eric; Arnold, Darin (December 24, 2002). "Naval Reservists Support NORAD's Annual Tracks Santa Project". (United States Navy). Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  22. ^ Viets, Pat (December 15, 2000). "NOAA to Aid NORAD in Tracking Santa Claus" (Press release). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  23. ^ Herring, Kyle; Hawley, Eileen (December 20, 2002). "NASA to Track Santa". Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  24. ^ Diller, George (December 21, 2006). "NASA's KSC Providing Assistance to Santa on Christmas Eve". Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  25. ^ Wrublewski, Tom (December 19, 2008). "NORAD Tracks Santa Update". Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  26. ^ Atkins, William (December 23, 2006). "NORAD and NASA Help Santa Claus Deliver Toys to Children". iTWire. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  27. ^ Lavallee, David (December 12, 2007). "NORAD getting ready to track Santa". The Maple Leaf. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  28. ^ Munoz, Alexandre (December 12, 2007). "Land force ready to help too". The Maple Leaf. Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  29. ^ Peterson, Lorinda (December 14, 2005). "Canadian institutions keep us believing in Santa, says Queen's researcher" (Press release). Queen's University via Retrieved December 26, 2011. 
  30. ^ Hills, Suzannah (December 24, 2013). "Michelle Obama answers calls for Norad's Santa hotline". Daily Mail. Retrieved December 27, 2013. 
  31. ^ Cotton, Anthony (December 24, 2014). "NORAD-calling Santa-trackers receive surprise update from First Lady". The Denver Post. Retrieved January 5, 2015. 
  32. ^ Elliott, Dan; Associated Press (December 24, 2010). "Secret Santa helper: First lady pitches in with NORAD". NBC News. Retrieved May 30, 2011. 

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