Santa and his elves aren’t the only ones who bring Christmas magic to living rooms across the globe. For more than 65 years, the team at NORAD (North American Aerospace Command) has helped people worldwide follow along as the big guy makes his deliveries. NORAD Tracks Santa (NTS) has become a special part of the Christmas season for the families that use it to watch St. Nick’s progress and the volunteers who get to be a part of the wonder of Christmas for believers worldwide.
Every year NORAD has 1,600 volunteers answering more than 125,000 phone calls, 2,000 emails, and thousands of messages through their various other interfaces from children eagerly wanting to know where Santa is and when he will arrive at their chimney. Many volunteers feel they get as much joy out of the experience as the children and young-at-heart with whom they interact.
When her husband was stationed at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs, Karen Hoagland made it a priority to snag one of the coveted volunteer shifts, answering phone calls from around the world. One such call came from a boy who lived in Michigan. When told Santa had already passed through his area, he became dismayed because there were not yet any presents under his tree. Hoagland reassured him, “Santa could come back, but only if he and his sister were in bed. He said he was going to bed right then!”
If they ever return to Colorado, Hoagland says she’ll happily volunteer again to experience the joy that comes from being a part of the Christmas magic.
“It was the absolute best way to spend Christmas Eve when you don’t have kiddos of your own!”
In addition to heightening the excitement about Santa’s impending visits, many families find creative ways to use NTS. It can become a fun, impromptu geography lesson, utilizing the website feature that allows users to select cities Santa has recently visited and read facts about each place. Others use it to feel connected during a deployment or after a move, reassuring kids that Santa’s sleigh won’t skip their friends and family members living far away.
ER nurse Emily Ross Koch found a unique use for NTS during her Christmas shifts. She used the tracker to soothe the nerves of children worried about spending the holiday at the hospital.
“One Christmas Eve, we had a little boy who was there getting stitches and was so worried he wouldn’t make it home before Santa got there to put cookies out,” she said. “He made it home in time, but we checked it the whole time he was there. His mom was so thankful.”
Koch also used the system to show children not lucky enough to be discharged by Christmas Eve that Santa had made it to their house while they were away. Her own family uses it to help navigate Christmas Eve bedtime hesitance.
“They know when he’s in South America, they’d better be asleep!“ she said.
Air Force Col. Harry Shoup inadvertently started the mission in 1955 when he answered a misdirected call at NORAD from a child who believed she was calling Santa. Shoup assured her that he and his coworkers would track Santa’s progress to ensure he didn’t run into trouble as he made his deliveries. Since that year, NORAD has reported on Santa’s journey, allowing children to nestle safely in their beds on Dec. 24, confident that the reindeer and their precious cargo will soon arrive in their hometowns.
Starting Dec. 1, the noradsanta.org site is up and running, offering games and other content in anticipation of Dec. 24, when Santa takes off on his adventure.
Just as the toys made in Santa’s workshop have kept up with technology, so too has NORAD’s tracking interface. His journey can be followed through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Amazon Alexa, as well as the official website, noradsanta.org and the phone line, 1-877-HI-NORAD.