For the 50th year, the North American Aerospace Defense Command will be keeping a very close eye on a special visitor to North American skies.
Since 1955, NORAD, which provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty and defense for the United States and Canada, has tracked the flight patterns of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve as he makes his way across North America.
The tradition started when an errant phone call reached what was then the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The call came from a local youngster who dialed a misprinted phone number in the local newspaper and wanted to know the whereabouts of St. Nick.
The commander answered the phone and provided the youngster with the information he sought, and a Christmas tradition was started.
“It is the most wonderful experience you can ever imagine to talk to children from literally all over the world who want to know where Santa is and ‘When is he going to be at my house?’” said Air Force Gen. Gene Renaurt, NORAD commander, in a Pentagon release.
NORAD assumed the program when it was formed in 1958.
The program has grown in the half century since that phone call, particularly since the advent of the Internet. NORAD’s Web Site registered 10.6 million visitors last year from 212 countries and territories, according to the Pentagon.
The NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center, a facility staffed Christmas Eve by more than 1,000 volunteers, answered 95,000 phone calls and received 140,000 e-mails from families around the world.
This year, NORAD will provide live video feeds on the NORAD Tracks Santa Web Site , which also features holiday games and activities.
“This is not necessarily national defense,” Renaurt said of the special holiday program, comparing it to NORAD’s around-the-clock mission providing aerospace warning and defense. “But it is a mission we have taken great pride in over the years and that has connected us with communities around the world.”