December 24: Santa Tracking

NORAD SantaA funny thing happened on Christmas Eve, 1955: A Sears department store in Colorado Springs placed an ad in a local newspaper advertising a phone number that children could call and talk to Santa as he made his journey around the globe. There was just one problem; the phone number printed in the ad didn’t connect to the special Santa hotline. Instead, it was a phone number for the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center in Colorado Springs.

Conveniently, the Colonel on duty that day was in the Christmas spirit. After the first few calls came in, he instructed his staff to give any child who called in Santa Claus’ “current location.” When North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) replaced CONAD in 1958, the tradition continued and continues to this day.

Over the years, the NORAD Tracks Santa program expanded beyond just the Christmas Eve hotline. Radio and television stations would use NORAD’s reports provide updates on Santa’s progress across the globe. As the NORAD service became better publicized, volunteers were brought in to answer calls and eventually email. In 1997, a website was created featuring CGI videos of Santa Claus and his reindeer flying over many of the world’s most famous cities and landmarks just after midnight, local time. Several celebrities have gotten in on the act over the last few years. Ringo Starr narrated videos in 2003 and 2004, and in 2010, 2011 and 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama served as one of the volunteers answering calls. This year, NORAD’s volunteers are expected to answer over 12,000 e-mails and 70,000 phone calls from over 200 countries.

The NORAD Tracks Santa program is a uniquely modern Christmas tradition. As University Of Manitoba history professor Gerry Bowler told the Associated Press in 2010 “The NORAD tradition is one of the few modern additions to the centuries-old Santa Claus story that have stuck…” and the tradition “…takes an essential element of the Santa Claus story — his travels on Christmas Eve — and looks at it through a technological lens.”

As the man in the red suit makes his worldwide trip from the North Pole today, why don’t you mix yourself a nice North Pole Martini? It’s a nice and creamy, snow colored variation on the Aviation created by Trader Vic.

North Pole Martini

  • 2 ounces Dry Gin
  • 1 ounce Maraschino Liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • heavy cream

Shake the gin, maraschino, lemon juice and egg white with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and float a bit of heavy cream on top.

Tomorrow: It’s Christmas Day, but we’re going to look at what other events happened on December 25.

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