For 65 years the American and Canadian service members at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD man a phone line for kids checking on Santa. Nowadays they can also go online.
According to NORAD’s official history, the whole thing started back in 1955 with a Sears ad in the Colorado Springs newspaper that included a phone number for children to talk to Santa. But some kids accidentally dialed the operations center for NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command. The man on duty that night, Colonel Harry Shoup, responded magnificently. He told his crew to take the calls and reassure the children that Santa would be coming.
NORAD tracks everything that flies in and around the U.S., 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But the annual mission – NORAD Tracks Santa – is so well known it rather overshadows the work the Command does the other 364 days of the year.
“There are some conversations I’ve had that people are surprised to find out that NORAD is an actual military organization,” said Major Cameron Hillier with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
These days, kids can follow Santa all sorts of ways – online, through an app; they can even ask Alexa. But the telephone hotline remains the heart of the operation.
Like other military installations, Peterson Air Force Base, which houses NORAD, has become a bubble during the pandemic, with off-base visitors strictly limited. So this year, there will be a lot fewer people answering the phones, just base personnel and their families.
For kids who don’t get through to a live person, a recording will let them know where Santa is. And that’s important for helping some families keep their traditions on track.