On This Day- 24th of December 1955
Have you ever heard of a happy accident? There are multiple examples that I can think of, but this one takes the cake.
In 1955, the Sears Roebuck and Co. in Colorado Springs, CO, printed an advertisement for children. It said that if you called the number they gave, you could talk directly to Santa Claus. The problem was that the number they printed actually put them through to the commander of Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center (you may know it as Stargate Command, or SGC), named Colonel Harry Shoup. To avoid disappointed children, Shoup had his staff check the radar for signs of Santa Claus, keeping kids updated on Santa’s progress.
Seeing how much the children loved it, CONAD offered to do it again every year since then. It even continued when CONAD became the bi-national radar defense base for both the United States and Canada, renaming it to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Knowing how valuable this tradition was, it has grown since then.
Since then, they’ve relied on volunteers (called “Santa’s Helpers”) to respond to these calls. To this day, television news crews would update viewers on Santa’s progress via the hotline, as part of their weather updates, on Christmas Eve. My parents grew up with it in that regard. Things changed forever in 1997, when NORAD launched a website for the tracker. This was how it really got my dad’s attention. He first showed it to me on Christmas Eve, 2000. I was 7 years old.
From 2004-2008, NORAD experimented with using Google Earth, originally having you download a specific KMZ file. Many felt that to be too much of a process, preferring less waiting time, so it was discontinued. In 2009, they put a Google Earth window into their website, which is still there. That’s how we update my five year old brother. If you go onto the site from January-November, it asks you to come back December 1, when it comes back updated. On the night itself, it even features CG videos of Santa flying over famous landmarks with narration, called the “Santa Cam”. Sometimes it’s a Helper, other times it’s a celebrity. In 2003 and 2004, the London video was done by Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, and Jonathan Ross narrated the same video from 2005-2007. Every year sees more landmarks.
What we might do this year is relatively new- last year, NORAD released an app for iOS and Android that gives you his current location, updating regularly and featuring a game similar to Angry Birds. University of Manitoba History Professor Gerry Bowler, this is “one of the few modern additions to the centuries-old Santa Claus story that have stuck.” He said that it, and other tracking efforts “takes an essential element of the Santa Claus story — his travels on Christmas Eve — and looks at it through a technological lens,” effectively bringing Santa into the modern day. I don’t know about you, but I agree completely.
You can find it here, at http://www.noradsanta.org/