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Why does NORAD Track Santa Claus?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 23, 2024
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First, it may help to know what NORAD stands for. NORAD is an abbreviation for the North American Air Defense Command, which was known as CONAD, or the Continental Air Defense Command, until the late 1950s. In 1958, the United States and Canada joined together to form NORAD in order to warn and defend the continent more effectively in the case of an attack. The North American Air Defense Command watches the airways for intrusions such as planes or missiles and warns if any unrecognized object should enter protected airways and more recently, waterways as well.

So, why does an important entity like NORAD track Santa Claus? That also started back in the 1950s and came about because of a simple mistake. In 1955, a Sears store, at the time known as Sears Roebuck and Company, placed Christmas advertising that included a phone number where children could reach Santa Claus. The only problem was that the phone number was printed incorrectly.

As excited children began dialing on Christmas Eve, they reached CONAD, instead of Santa. The Colonel in charge recognized what had occurred, and as an act of kindness, had his team check the radar to see where Santa might be. Children were told of his speculated location when they called.

Tracking Santa became a Christmas Eve custom after that. When CONAD became NORAD, the custom was passed along and is still in practice today. Information about Santa is now available in six different languages and children and their families can track Santa by calling or by viewing the NORAD website. The NORAD site also has a countdown that shows exactly how long it will be until Santa leaves the North Pole, which includes the days, the hours, the minutes, and even the seconds. Children can learn the very second Santa begins his journey, and track his progress toward their locations.

For those concerned about this use of taxpayer’s dollars, remember that much of this effort is simply an exercise in creativity and imagination. In addition, NORAD states that people from both the United States and Canada work voluntarily to help track Santa Claus. If you would like to learn more about this Christmas Eve tradition, or if you would like to follow Santa’s progress, please visit the NORAD website for more information. Merry Christmas to all and to Santa, good flight!

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Discussion Comments
By anon985334 — On Jan 14, 2015

When I was a kid, I really held onto the idea that Santa Claus was a real person. I was always hoping there would be definite proof that he existed, like a photograph or footprints or eyewitnesses. When my local TV stations started showing the radar sightings from NORAD, that was good enough for me. I went around telling my skeptical friends that Santa Claus had to be real because he was spotted on radar, and radar doesn't lie. I held onto that thought for years.

By anon131899 — On Dec 04, 2010

We go to the NORAD Track Santa Site every year and totally appreciate what these people do for the kids. Thank you again this year in advance for taking your time out to care.

By snappy — On Jan 09, 2010

Oh this is adorable! I've heard the local news talking about tracking Santa, but I always thought it was just a holiday joke. That is so cool that workers volunteer to "track" Santa!

And what a wonderful Colonel to have taken the time to have his team "check" for what was probably overwhelming calls!

Although if you think about it..it is a HUGE

coincidence that the misprinted number was actually a place that "technically" could track Santa! What are the odds?!

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