Colorado Springs, Colorado
One of the world’s strangest Christmas Eve traditions, and in recent years one of the most popular, is the online Santa Claus Tracker. Sponsored and maintained by volunteers at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, the Santa Claus Tracker is Christmas Eve’s most popular website as millions of children around the world eagerly check the site for updates on Santa’s current location. Running for a 24-hour period beginning at 2:00am Mountain Time, NORAD’s dedicated volunteers track Santa Claus from the North Pole around the world to his final destination in Hawaii. The NORAD website now receives more than a billion hits annually during that 24-hour period.
The NORAD Santa Claus Tracker began by accident in 1955, when a Sears store in Colorado advertised a phone number which local children could call and talk to Santa Claus. However, the newspaper advertisement displayed the incorrect phone number, which was in fact the hotline number for the Operations Director at CONAD (the predecessor of NORAD). Colonel Harry Shoup, the officer in charge, quickly realized the mistake after the first few phone calls. Figuring they were in for a long night, Shoup ordered his staff to take the calls and update the eager children with Santa Claus’ location. And thus a major public relations tradition was born.
Over the next few years the military decided to repeat the fortuitous accident, advertising their own Santa hotline. Its popularity grew, and within a few years a NORAD Tracking Operations Center was established in Colorado Springs, staffed by volunteers from Peterson Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain. In 1997, the Santa Claus Tracker migrated to the World Wide Web, where it has been an internet sensation every Christmas Eve since. As of 2006, just a year after its 50th anniversary, the Santa Claus Tracker generated over half a million phone calls and over a billion web hits from over two hundred countries and territories. A peek at the Santa’s location online has now become almost as popular a Christmas Eve tradition as leaving milk and cookies out for the big man himself.
The NORAD Santa Tracking Operations Center is located in Colorado Springs, about sixty miles south of Denver. Although it is staffed by volunteers and some visitors are permitted, it is generally off-limits to the general public as it is part of a major military installation. However, the real fun, obviously, is following Santa’s progress on the web, which of course can be done from any computer on the planet. Web: www.noradsanta.org (official website of the NORAD Santa Tracker)