A Wrong Number Started A Holiday Tradition
The North American Aerospace Defense Command is observing its
50th anniversary of tracking Santa Claus on his annual rounds,
NORAD officials told Aero-News Thursday.
The tradition of tracking Santa began in 1955. That's when a
local Sears, Roebuck and Co. store ran a newspaper ad urging
children to make a phone call on Christmas Eve and talk to Santa
There was just one problem: as fate would have it, the phone
number was misprinted and -- instead of reaching Santa --
youngsters found themselves talking with Air Force Col. Harry Shoup
of the Continental Air Defense Command at Cheyenne Mountain.
Rather than hanging up, Shoup and his troops answered every
child's call that night with a report of Santa's location. CONAD
personnel kept up the practice until 1958, when NORAD was formed
and took over Santa-tracking duties.
NORAD has continued the Santa tracking tradition for several
reasons, according to Air Force Master Sgt. John Tomassi,
co-director of Santa-tracking operations.
"I think in the initial stages, back in the '50s and '60s, it
was just a novelty kind of thing," he said. "A lot of people --
children and their families -- do this tracking Santa as a
tradition in their family. We've recognized now that people have
taken this program as a tradition, and what we can do is educate
"We do track Santa," he continued. "However, we do provide for
the defense of the North American aerospace also. We use the
satellites to track Santa, we use the radar, we use jet fighters,
but all of those exact same things are what we use to monitor the
aerospace of North America."
While youngsters are tracking Santa's flight, they may also
learn a thing or two about the world around them, Tomassi said.
"We think of it as a
geography lesson," said he explained, "because the different places
that Santa visits or sightings that we have, a lot of people
haven't heard of. If we can get some children to go and look at a
map to find out where Timbuktu is, or where India is, or Pakistan,
or wherever, then we feel all the better for that."
Last Christmas Eve, volunteers at Cheyenne Mountain answered
nearly 55,000 phone calls and 35,000 e-mails from children around
the world. During December 2004, the NORAD Tracks Santa Web site
had 912 million hits from 181 countries. This year, about 500
volunteers - most of them US and Canadian military personnel and
their families - will report for telephone-answering duty on
Christmas Eve. But already, youngsters are sending messages to
Santa via the NORAD Tracks Santa Web site.
"E-mails are arriving from India and Ireland and all over the
world already from children with their wish lists who want to talk
to Santa," Tomassi said. "We receive, on average, 200 e-mails a
(Aero-News Salutes Army Sgt. 1st Class Gail Braymen is
assigned to North American Aerospace Defense Command public