Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And NORAD has its eyes on him for the 65th straight year.
The tradition began by accident when Air Force Col. Harry Shoup – the commander on duty at NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) – answered a call from a child who rang a telephone number misprinted in a newspaper department store ad trying to get in touch with Santa.
The quick-thinking Shoup assured the girl he was Kris Kringle, and an annual tradition was born.
CONAD was renamed North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in 1981.
The program is usually staffed by around 150 volunteers who take about 40 phone calls per hour. In total, they deal with more than 100,000 telephone calls and more than 12,000 emails from over 200 countries and territories.
Since the program’s start, it has undergone gradual tweaks. The reporting of Santa’s progress has become more complex, thanks to technology and the internet.
In 2008, Google teamed up with NORAD to use Google Analytics to analyze website traffic to noradsanta.org, to allow the project to better utilize its volunteers, telephone and computer equipment while dealing with the deluge of requests.
In 2019, the program received a boost from tech companies, including Google, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard — to deliver the immersive effect for global Santa trackers, with some 15 million visits to the website alone last year.
This year will be a bit different, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the globe. NORAD said the number of volunteers will drop precipitously, with the number of call center volunteers at no more than 10 per shift.
“We understand this is a time-honored tradition, and we know undoubtedly there is going to be some disappointment,” said NORAD spokesman Preston Schlachter in November. “But we’re trying to keep it safe for everyone involved.”
For those wishing to check on Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick’s whereabouts, they can dial 1-877-HI-NORAD on Dec. 24. Some luck callers may speak with a rep, while others will receive a recorded update on St. Nick’s current location.
Though COVID-19 has altered NORAD’s plans for tracking Santa this year, it’s keeping tabs on him both on Earth and in space.
On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it granted Santa Claus and his sleigh “special operating authority” to make interstate deliveries throughout the U.S. on Christmas Eve.
In addition, the FAA issued Santa a “special commercial space license” for a crewed mission to the International Space Station using his StarSleigh-1 space capsule, which of course is powered by the Rudolph Rocket.
Fox News’ Janine Puhak and the Associated Press contributed to this story.