NORAD marks 62 years of tracking Santa’s flight

An illustration shows Santa Claus flying past a blue moon in his sleigh

When you think of Christmas, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? The joy of giving rather than receiving? Mistletoe? A military facility designed specifically to monitor and track nuclear attacks?

Although that last one might not seem to fit with the rest, the North American Aerospace Defense Command is celebrating its 62nd year tracking Santa’s Christmas Eve flight across the globe this year. NORAD’s day-to-day mission of keeping America and Canada safe from airborne attacks may be all business 364 days of the year, but Christmas Eve is special to this organization.

How it all began

The best kinds of traditions are the ones that start accidentally, a sentiment that is especially true for NORAD’s tracking of Santa’s flight. It all began with a misprint of a Sears ad in Colorado Springs, Colo., which gave kids the wrong number to call “Santa.” The number printed was actually that of the Colorado-based NORAD – then known as the Continental Air Defense Command – and was meant to be a hotline for military purposes.

On the night of Dec. 24, 1955, NORAD’s Director of Operations Colonel Harry Shoup heard the telephone ring. Although the chances for an attack on American soil on Christmas Eve were slim, it was the height of the Cold War and the colonel couldn’t risk missing out on important information. When he picked up the phone, he was shocked to hear the voice of a young boy asking to talk to Santa.

According to Shoup’s daughter, the colonel immediately demanded to know the name of the caller. Tensions were very high at this point in American history and Shoup had neither the time nor the patience for a prank call. His rough tone must have scared the boy and he began to cry, asking if Shoup was one of Santa’s elves. The colonel instantly realized what was going on, softened his tone and replied that he was indeed one of Santa’s helpers. He asked if the boy had been good and what he wanted from Santa for Christmas. After making this child’s night, Shoup asked to talk to the boy’s mother and found out about the ad.

The colonel knew that more children would be calling for Santa because of how widespread the ad was. He could have easily instructed his men to hang up on the children, as he was running an extremely important military operation that didn’t need any distractions. But Shoup’s Christmas spirit simply wouldn’t allow for this and soon enough the calls coming in were being answered by Santa’s army of helpers.

Shoup understood that this wasn’t an annoyance, but rather a great way to spread Christmas cheer. So, the following year and every year since, NORAD has used its tracking technology to follow Santa’s Christmas Eve trip around the world.

NORAD’s the only one for the job

Although this tradition started off as a mistake, the young boy’s call to the facility was extremely fortunate. NORAD is one of the few organizations capable of tracking Santa and his sleigh, and the military personnel are more than happy to take on the challenge.

The night begins with NORAD’s North Warning System picking up Santa on his way out of the North Pole. This system is made up of 47 installations of finely tuned radar devices that find Santa’s location and direct the information to satellites with infrared sensors.

“The infrared sensors work equally well on Rudolph’s nose.”

These satellites are meant to pick up the heat created by a missile, but NORAD says on its website that the infrared sensors work equally well on Rudolph’s nose. Once NORAD has locked onto Santa, it tracks his journey around the globe, using cameras placed all over the world to actually broadcast video of his flight. It even has Canadian and American fighter jets escort him through certain sections of the world. Santa certainly doesn’t need protection, and can actually fly much quicker than the fastest jet in the world. But he likes the company and the reminder that the world still believes in him.

If you’d like to bring this tradition into your home, make sure to log onto NORAD’s website on Christmas Eve. Of course, watching Santa’s flight is going to require a reliable satellite internet connection. Although Santa works tirelessly to bring presents to all the good boys and girls across the globe, many internet providers simply don’t work as hard to provide you with a solid connection.

Thankfully, Viasat Internet is here to spread the Christmas spirit by providing the best satellite internet possible. If you want to make the most of NORAD’s yearly tradition, make sure to check out our variety of satellite internet options.

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