NORAD Tracks Santa, the military-run program that fields phone calls and messages from children around the world eager to ask when Santa will arrive, begins December 24 through Christmas Day, December 25.
Despite the threat of a government shutdown, NORAD will continue this holiday tradition thanks to military personnel and some 1,500 volunteers who make the program possible year after year.
Now entering its 63rd year, NORAD Tracks Santa will go live Monday, with thousands of volunteers answering calls and emails at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
And if you have Amazon's voice-activated Echo device, you can ask Alexa once you enable the function.
Technology has always been at the heart of NORAD Tracks Santa, which got its start in 1955 with an old-school glitch.
An advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper that year invited kids to call Santa, but it mistakenly listed the number for the hotline at the U.S. Continental Air Defense Command. CONAD, as it was called, had the job of monitoring a vast radar network from a combat operations center in Colorado Springs, searching the skies for any hint of a nuclear attack by the onetime Soviet Union.
Col. Harry Shoup, who was in charge of the operations center, took the first child's call.
It's not clear what day the first call came in, but by Friday, Dec. 23 of that first year, the AP reported that CONAD was tracking Santa.
"Note to the kiddies," the story began, under a Colorado Springs dateline. "Santa Claus Friday was assured safe passage into the United States by the Continental Air Defense Command combat operations center here which began plotting his journey from the North Pole early this morning."
Maybe hoping to soothe a jittery nation, the story added: "CONAD, Army, Navy and Marine Air Forces will continue to track and guard Santa and his sleigh on his trip to and from the U.S. against possible attack from those who do not believe in Christmas." That was likely a reference to the officially atheist Soviet Union.
The history of the program over the next few years isn't well documented, said Preston Schlachter, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD, a U.S.-Canadian command that eventually succeeded CONAD.
But TV and radio stations began broadcasting Christmas Eve bulletins from CONAD and NORAD. And by the 1980s, NORAD was soliciting phone calls from children. (The number is now 877-Hi NORAD or 877-446-6723.)
Last year, more than 1,500 hotline volunteers answered a record 126,103 calls to the NORAD Tracks Santa 1-877 HI-NORAD hotline. The NORAD Tracks Santa website, available in eight languages, received 18 million visitors. 1.5 million people asked their Alexa devices “Hey, Alexa, where’s Santa?” and more than 3 million people tracked Santa on the ‘NORAD Tracks Santa Claus’ app.
The mission critical Avaya customer engagement technology helps volunteers carefully monitor Santa’s travels and ensure his safety using radar, satellites, planes and ‘Santa Cams’ strategically positioned worldwide. Volunteers share that information with callers as Santa soars through the night skies across the globe.
“We are hoping for another record-setting year for NORAD Tracks Santa and a delightful experience for each and every caller and volunteer,” said Major Mark Lazane, NORAD Tracks Santa Program Manager. “As we know each call matters, so we’re happy to have Avaya’s trusted technology behind us ensuring that we can support the hundreds of thousands of calls and interactions jammed into a short 24 hour period.”
The NORAD Tracks Santa Web site features family-friendly games, videos and information about Santa. Details about Santa’s travels will also be available on December 24 through social media, including www.youtube.com/noradtrackssanta, https://twitter.com/NoradSanta and https://www.instagram.com/noradtrackssanta_official/.
The 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) hotline is scheduled to start at 4 a.m. MST on Dec. 24 and end on 12 a.m. MST, Christmas morning.