NORAD Tracks Santa’s Christmas Eve journey

COLORADO — In its 59-year tradition, the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, will follow Santa Claus’s Christmas Eve travels using radar, satellites, jet fighters and special cameras, said Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh, spokesman for the NORAD Tracks Santa program.

Children today who track Santa’s travels from the North Pole around the world on Christmas Eve through NORAD have a 1955 Sears Roebuck misprint to thank.

The tradition started when a Sears ad encouraging kids to call Santa accidentally published a secret military hotline number. Those first calls from anxious children went to NORAD’s then-Director of Operations Col. Harry Shoup, who would give a “ho-ho-ho” and Santa’s location.

Since that year, NORAD staff and friends have volunteered to answer emails and calls from curious kids.

The northern warning radar system covers nearly 50 installations across northern Canada and Alaska to closely monitor signs of when Santa leaves the North Pole in his flying-reindeer-powered sleigh, Marsh explained.

The geosynchronous orbit satellite system begins tracking Santa’s route, 22,000 miles above earth, using infrared systems that detect heat to pick up the warmth generated by Rudolph the reindeer’s red nose, he said.

Finally, Canadian NORAD CF-18 fighter pilots take off from Newfoundland and welcome Santa and his reindeer to North America, where American NORAD jet pilots escort him in F-15s, -16s or -22s, Marsh said.

That’s when the high-speed, digital Santa cameras positioned around the world pick up St. Nick at about 3 a.m., MST and 5 a.m., EST Christmas Eve, Marsh said. Pictures and videos from the cams are loaded onto the Santa tracker at

Volunteers take their positions at the NORAD operations center to field children’s phone calls at 1(877) 446-6723 or 1(877) HI-NORAD in eight languages — English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese.

Children can then watch as Santa starts his trek from the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean, travels west, and moves up and down the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Weather conditions may cause Santa to vary his course.

“The volunteers work two-hour shifts but usually stay longer out of excitement,” Marsh said.  “We couldn’t do this without them.”

Volunteers also talk to children all around the world from NORAD all around the world by email at, Facebook posts, Twitter, Google-Plus and even OnStar operators.

“We’re expecting more than 1,250 American and Canadian uniformed personnel, civilians, family members and members of the local community to volunteer their time on Dec. 24, to answer the thousands of phone calls and emails that flood in,” Marsh said.

Last year, the NORAD Tracks Santa operations center had nearly 20 million website visits from people in 234 countries, 1.45 million Facebook “likes,” and more than 146,000 Twitter followers, Marsh said.

Volunteers received more than 117,000 phone calls during the 23-hour timeframe, he said, and responded to more than 9,606 emails and some 800 inquiries through OnStar.

Children ask volunteers lots of questions about Santa’s whereabouts, whether he goes to every house in the world, and how he gets all the presents delivered in one night.

“NORAD intelligence reports indicate that Santa doesn’t experience time the way we do, but in his own space-time continuum,” Marsh said. “It seems like 24 hours to us, but it’s days, weeks and even months to Santa, because he wouldn’t want to rush the important job of delivering gifts and spreading joy.”

Some children want to know Santa’s age, Marsh said.

“It’s hard to know for sure,” he said. “But he’s at least 16 centuries old.”

The volunteers also advise children that Santa delivers presents between 9 p.m. and midnight, so it’s important for them to be asleep when he arrives, Marsh said.

As Christmas nears, children and their families can take part in new age-appropriate games every day on the website, watch movies, listen to holiday tunes by the Air Force Academy Band and read about Santa, the history of his ancient sleigh and the holiday traditions of other countries.

NORAD’s Track Santa program is DoD’s largest community outreach program, and this year about 60 organizations’ contributions will make the program possible, Marsh said.

“We’re very proud of our mission [at NORAD and NORTHCOM] and we’re good at it all -year long,” Marsh said. “But we love the opportunity this time of year to be able to say to everyone, ‘Sleep tight. We have the watch.’”


Posted by Lonnie Allen

Lonnie is the Pioneer's city/county reporter. He also coordinates the Gardens and Growers page. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8328 or by e-mail at

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