The Endearing Story Behind the Norad Santa Tracker

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How an error lead to one of the most endearing features of christmas eve

Every year, millions of children eagerly await Santa Claus’ journey around the world with the NORAD Santa Tracker. This heartwarming tradition, which has become a cherished part of Christmas for families worldwide, involves tracking Santa’s flight as he delivers gifts to all the good little boys and girls. But what many people don’t know is that this popular Christmas tradition began over 50 years ago with a typo in an American newspaper ad.

In 1955, Sears Roebuck & Co. placed an advertisement in a Colorado Springs-area newspaper. The ad included a phone number that children could call to speak with Santa Claus. However, instead of connecting to the North Pole, the misprinted number inadvertently connected to a telephone on the desk of Colonel Harry Shoup, the director of operations at the Continental Air Defense Command.

Terri Van Keuren, one of Colonel Shoup’s daughters, vividly remembers the significance of that red phone on her father’s desk. “Only a four-star general at the Pentagon and my dad had the number,” Van Keuren revealed in a recent interview with StoryCorps, where she and her siblings shared the heartwarming story of how the Santa tracking program began.

When the phone rang one day that December, Colonel Shoup was initially surprised to hear a small voice on the other end asking for Santa. Despite his initial annoyance, Shoup decided to play along, much to the delight of the children on the line. As the calls continued pouring in, Colonel Shoup enlisted the help of airmen to answer the calls on Santa’s behalf. On Christmas Eve, they took it a step further by adding Santa’s sleigh to the glass board used by the command centre to track flights over the United States.

Van Keuren recalled, “Next thing you know, Dad had called the radio station and had said, ‘This is the commander at the Combat Alert Center, and we have an unidentified flying object. Why, it looks like a sleigh. Well, the radio stations would call him like every hour and say, ‘Where’s Santa now?'” And so, a beloved tradition was born.

Colonel Shoup received letters from all corners of the globe, expressing gratitude for his sense of humour and for starting a tradition that brought joy to countless children and families. Little did he know that a simple typo in a newspaper ad would lead to something so enduring and heartwarming.

In 1958, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) assumed the responsibility of tracking Santa’s journey. To this day, NORAD staff members, along with their families and friends, volunteer their time to respond to children’s calls, letters, and emails. They work diligently to track Santa’s flight each Christmas, ensuring that children everywhere can follow his progress and keep the magic of Christmas alive.

You can follow Santa’s progress on his journey around the globe at the Norad Santa Tracker.