Santa Claus has harnessed his reindeer and taken off in his sleigh as he prepares to deliver this year’s stack of presents.
The job of watching out for Santa on Dec. 24 falls to the same people who monitor North American skies the other 364 days of the year — the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD).
It all started with a typo more than a half-century ago. In 1955, a department store advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper gave the wrong phone number for children to talk to Santa at the Sears Toyland.
Instead, the children were ringing through to the operations hotline for the then-Continental Air Defense Command, a predecessor of the bi-national NORAD command that was created in 1958.
The American director of operations at the time, Col. Harry Shoup, heard his calling to pitch in as an elf and made the best of the mistake: he told his staff to check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole.
Children who called the number from then on were given updates on his location.
Tracking Santa in 2012 has become a major undertaking for NORAD, with 1,250 volunteers on duty to provide updates to the public and media.
The tradition of a telephone hotline remains,but a countdown clock, videos and other information are also available on NORAD’s website: www.noradsanta.org.