NORAD Tracking Santa’s Location: How did the Tradition Evolve?

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By Ankita Mehta | December 18, 2013 11:27 PM EST

Every year during Christmas, the members of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) have been entertaining children by telling the 'precise' location of Santa.

While it is safe to say that the organization has been serving children across the world by retaining their 'innocence' in a culture that endows millions of Christians in a special believe they have held for centuries, its worth recollecting the fateful moment when such a tradition of 'tracking' Santa ever began.  

NORAD online Santa tracker provides live updates of whereabouts of Santa from around the world. Every Christmas, members of NORAD talk to children via e-mails and telephones to inform them about Santa.

But, the whole program of Santa Tracker started in a fateful day in 1955 when a newspaper printed a wrong number in an advertisement by a local department store. The ad in the newspaper read: "Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number."

However, the number in the ad had a typo following which children's calls were redirected to Continental Air Defense Command (NORAD's predecessor), according to the official website of NORAD.   

Colonel Harry Shoup was on duty that Christmas eve. He received numerous calls on that night, but instead of hanging up the phone he started talking to children and provided them the location of Santa Claus. After that Colonel Shoup began to be known as "Santa Colonel".

The first phone call which Shoup received was from a girl who was upset and crying as she couldn't speak to Santa. Here is a brief description of the phone call between Shoup and the little girl as reported by The Atlantic.

"Yes, Sir, this is Col. Shoup."

As Mentalfloss explained, the colonel received no reply - just silence.

"Sir? This is Col. Shoup," he said again.

More silence.

"Sir?" Shoup was probably, at this point, trying not to panic. Silence on the crisis line. "Can you read me alright?"

Finally, the caller spoke up. It was not a commanding officer. It was ... a little girl. And she was confused, too. "Are you really Santa Claus?" she asked.

Shoup, at that point, demanded to know who was calling, Terri Van Keuren, his daughter, remembers. He was brusque. This didn't make any sense.

"The little voice is now crying," Van Keuren recalls.

The voice didn't give up, though. "Is this one of Santa's elves, then?"

It must be a prank, Shoup thought. But, as he scanned the room, the "stony, serious faces" of his fellow men suggested otherwise. Then it occurred to him: Lines must have, literally, gotten crossed. There must have been "some screwup on the phones."

And then Shoup made a fateful, delightful decision: He decided to play along.

"Yes, I am," he answered the caller. "Have you been a good little girl?"

More calls began coming in. Shoup grabbed an airman who happened to be standing nearby and told him to answer the calls, too. The direction Shoup gave, as Van Keuren remembers the story is that he said to "just pretend you're Santa.'" 

Soon, the pretending evolved: The CONAD staffs were providing the calling children not just with bowlful-of-jelly replies to their inquiries, but also with informational updates about Santa's progress as he made his way around the world. As NORAD's Santa site puts it: "A tradition was born."

NORAD online Santa tracker receives more than nine million unique visitors from across the world every year. The staff volunteers every year receives over 70,000 calls and 12,000 e-mails from children.

 

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