24 December 1955: Norad begins tracking Santa

It’s become something of a Christmas tradition. Every Christmas Eve and in to the early hours of Christmas morning, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) tracks Santa Claus as he leaves the North Pole and speeds around the world handing out presents to the children on his Nice List.

It all started with a misprinted telephone number in a regional US newspaper. In 1955, Sears placed an ad telling children they could call Santa at any time day or night, together with Santa’s telephone number.

Unfortunately, the number printed was that of the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs.

The base’s director of operations, Colonel Harry Shoup took the first call. Instead of telling the caller they had a wrong number, he checked on his radar and informed them of Santa’s whereabouts. He instructed his staff to do the same with any other calls, and the tradition was born.

In 1958, Canada and the US formed Norad, and the programme was taken over by them. Now, the operation is staffed by some 1,200 volunteers – including, since 2009, Michelle Obama. In 2013, they answered 117,371 calls.

From telephone calls and newspapers to TV, the internet and social media, the programme has kept up with the times.

The action moved online in 1997. Now, anyone can log on and check on Saint Nick and pinpoint his location, or spy him on any of the Santa Cams around the globe. In 2013, 19.5 million users did just that.

In 2008, the programme joined Twitter and now boasts 136,000 followers, while its Facebook page is approaching 1.5 million likes.

And the official line on the existence of Santa? “Based on historical data and more than 50 years of Norad tracking information, we believe that Santa Claus is alive and well in the hearts of children throughout the world.”