One thing’s for sure: Santa Claus will not come and go unnoticed this Christmas Eve. The jolly fellow will be tracked with apps, social media, Google maps, and even by good old-fashioned telephone.
This year, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which has tracked St. Nick and his reindeer for over 50 years, has company: Google has gotten into the holiday spirit with a competing Santa tracker.
While NORAD's Santa Tracker employs radar, satellites, “SantaCams” from space and even fighter jets to follow Rudolph’s red nose, Google will call on its maps and “developer elves,” according to its Santa Tracker website, to locate Santa’s sleigh as he travels around the globe.
The original brainstorm for the idea was "an accident in history," according to NORAD. It all started in 1955, when a local Sears Roebuck & Co. catalog that promised a Santa hotline misprinted the number. Instead of Santa, callers got Continental Air Defense Command, now known as NORAD.
Calls going into the command center were generally red alerts from the secretary of defense or even the president. Instead, a little girl on the other end of the line asked for Santa. That’s a red alert of another kind.
Col. Harry Shoup, who happened to be working on Christmas Eve, knew a call to service when he heard one. He instructed staff members to check the radar for signs of Santa. And the tradition of volunteers tracking Santa on Christmas Eve has continued ever since.
The NORAD Tracking Center took over 114,000 phone calls last year. Already, searches on Yahoo for NORAD Santa Tracker and Santa Tracker are on the rise.
Following the travels of Santa is one thing. Explaining how all those presents get delivered in one night: That's someone else's job. As NORAD's deputy chief Stacey Knott, admitted to Reuters last year, "We're not completely sure how he does it. It's a little bit of magic."
Starting on Dec. 24 at 3 a.m. MT, NORAD’s Santa Tracker will be open for business. For up-to-the-minute Santa spotting, call 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723), email for last known locations at firstname.lastname@example.org, go to the website for updates, or download the mobile app.