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Tracking Santa on the Holiday's Most Popular Site

Typo In 1955 Newspaper Ad Results in Annual Holiday Phenomenon - Now On The Web

By Hans Petersen

December 19, 2000

When mom and dad were kids, they would stare in fixed suspense at the TV screen while the local newscaster would relay the "bulletins just in" on the progress of Santa Claus as he made his way south from the North Pole.

This Christmas Eve, kids will be at their computer screens, for the fourth year, tracking Santa in real time thanks to the United States Air Force and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Kids across the world can tune into NORAD's 44th Annual Santa track this Christmas Eve by surfing the web or picking up the phone. Children who do not have access to the Internet can call Cheyenne Mountain for a personal Santa update at (719) 474-3980 from 4 p.m. - midnight MST.

The extensive, six-language, multimedia website will track Santa on Christmas Eve using digital animation, satellite/cockpit images and audio reports from Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs -- NORAD's Command Center. New images and reports are posted every hour. The site is available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese.

The website has a variety of high-tech features and tackles numerous critically important aspects of Santa Claus -- including calculations of cookie and milk consumption, how he gets around the world so quickly and how he gets down the chimney.

How It Got Started

The Santa tracking tradition started in 1955 by pure accident after a local newspaper ran an ad for a Department Store ‘Santa Hotline.’ The ad included a special phone number which turned out to be the ‘Operations Hotline’ to Continental Air Defense Command (NORAD’s predecessor).

Needless to say, the military personnel on duty were very surprised to hear six-year-olds on the Operations hotline. The senior officer on duty at the time was Colonel Harry Shoup (who still resides in Colorado Springs). Col. Shoup took the first call and quickly figured out what had happened. The kids asked if they could speak to Santa. Col. Shoup said he was helping Santa and told them he could see him on the Radar screens heading south from the North Pole.

Local media heard of the calls and reported the story locally. The next year, calls came flooding in to Continental Air Defense Command from children who wanted to know where Santa was. A tradition was born - a tradition NORAD assumed in 1957. The program expanded gradually over the years until it hit the Internet in 1997. Hits - or Christmas Eve attempts to log on - numbered many, many millions in years since tracking Santa went online.

Website a Worldwide Hit

In 1998, the Santa Claus tracking website proved to be a huge success over the Christmas holidays with more than 28 million hits registered on the main site. Additionally, America Online (15 million users) and several other large Internet service providers carried the site on their internal servers, separate from the NORAD main site. With this additional Internet traffic, the website was likely the world’s most popular site on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that year and the next.

To date, the "NORAD Tracks Santa" website has been awarded more than 45 international Internet awards for website excellence. In addition to several American awards such as the USA Today Hotsite award and ABC News.Com Site of the Week, awards have been received from Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Japan. The worldwide recognition includes the Medaille d’Or Award from France and the Web Academy Award from Britain -- two of the Internet’s most highly prized awards.

News organizations all over the world feature NORAD’s website and Santa tracking program. In addition to extensive media coverage in North America, news outlets throughout Europe, Japan and in countries such as Malaysia, Colombia, New Zealand and Poland highlight the site.

Corporate, Personal Volunteers

More than 1,200 unsolicited emails and letters were received from around the world thanking NORAD for its Santa tracking efforts and standing watch over North America.

Eighty-two volunteers in Cheyenne Mountain responded to more than 7,000 phone calls from children around the world on Christmas Eve.

The webpage was designed by Analytical Graphics Inc., who created the site and all supporting imagery, and is hosted by IBM. In addition, Globelink Services International coordinated the extensive translation required for the website. All the organizations and volunteers who help make this global NORAD Christmas project possible do so at no cost to the taxpayer.

For More Information

Contact Maj. Jamie Robertson at (719) 554-5816 or send an e-mail to

About the Author

Hans Petersen is a writer/editor at the Health Care Financing Administration in Washington D.C. Currently writing for AccessAmerica E-Gov E-Zine, he can be reached at