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‘NORAD Tracks Santa’ Marking 61st Year of Christmas Tradition

Program started with wrong number printed in newspaper and has become Christmas mainstay for many families

Volunteers monitor phones and computers while tracking Santa Claus at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. More than 1,200 volunteers from across the base and community join to cover shifts spanning the 23 hours of tracking that NORAD hosts annually, dating back to pre-NORAD 1955. (Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh/Released) Click to view larger
Volunteers monitor phones and computers while tracking Santa Claus at the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. More than 1,200 volunteers from across the base and community join to cover shifts spanning the 23 hours of tracking that NORAD hosts annually, dating back to pre-NORAD 1955. (Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh/Released) (Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh / U.S. Air Force photo)

A newspaper error that caused children to dial a wrong number more than six decades ago launched a Christmas tradition that has evolved with the times while maintaining its main mission.

"NORAD Tracks Santa" marks its 61st year in 2016, and includes a website available in multiple languages since Dec. 1 in addition to apps available for several operating systems.

“We are just honored that NORAD Tracks Santa has become a part of so many family holiday traditions, and we hope to continue it for many years to come,” Navy Cmdr. Paul Noel told Noozhawk— and yes, that’s his real name.

NORAD is the acronym for North American Aerospace Defense Command, the military organization based in Colorado charged with aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America.

However, NORAD Tracks Santa is made possible by volunteers and corporate sponsors to handle virtually all the costs to provide the service, Noel said. 

In all, the effort now has more than 70 corporate and military partners and involves 1,500 volunteers.

“NORAD Tracks Santa is truly a global experience, delighting generations of families everywhere. This is due, in large part, to the efforts and services of numerous program contributors,” organizers said.

The website features features Santa’s North Pole Village, which includes a holiday countdown, games, activities, and more. 

It's available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.

Started in the era of rotary-dial phones, NORAD Tracks Santa now offers apps in the Windows, Apple and Google Play stores, allowing parents and children to countdown the days until Santa’s launch on their smart phones and tablets.

Tracking opportunities are also offered on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Google+.

Santa followers just need to type “@noradsanta” into each search engine to get started.

As of 11:01 p.m. PST on Friday, Dec. 23, website visitors could watch Santa make preparations for his flight. 

NORAD’s “Santa Cams” will stream videos on the website as Santa makes his way over various locations. 

Then, at 3 a.m. PST on Saturday, Dec. 24, trackers worldwide can speak with a live phone operator to inquire as to Santa’s whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number 1.877.Hi.NORAD (1.877.446.6723) or by sending an email to [email protected] 

Any time on Dec. 24, Windows Phone users can ask Cortana for Santa’s location, and OnStar subscribers can press the OnStar button in their vehicles to locate Santa.

The tradition dates back to 1955 when a local media advertisement directed children to call Santa direct – the wrong number was printed. 

Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to the crew commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center, the predecessor to NORAD.

Col. Harry Shoup, who was on duty that night,  had his operators find the location of Santa Claus and report it to every child who called, rather than hanging up on them.

"Today, through satellite systems, high-powered radars and jet fighters, NORAD tracks Santa Claus as he makes his Yuletide journey around the world," NORAD officials said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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