On December 24, 1955, the NORAD officer in charge received a call from a child trying to reach Santa Claus. This call was quickly followed by other children. The military gladly responded. Since that day and every December 24, this very important command center in the United States organizes the live follow-up of Santa's tour around the world, mobilizing more than 1,200 American or Canadian military or civilian personnel.
In 1955, and like every year around Christmas, there are many activities taking place in the United States. Among them is the opportunity for children to phone Santa. This is the case of the SEARS company, which publishes an advertisement on December 24 in the newspapers, with a Santa Claus announcing: "Hey kids! Call me directly on my Christmas phone, just dial 2-6681."
... or NORAD?
On that same December 24, 1955, U.S. Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup was stationed at Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), the forerunner of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). This command is very important because its purpose is to coordinate aerospace defense over the United States and Canada.
Colonel Shoup, then, is the officer in charge during that December 24 day. His phone rings, but it's not a military man on the other end of the line, but a child asking him if he's Santa Claus. The advertisement had made a mistake in the phone number by exchanging two numbers! Initially confused, he quickly realized that it was a mistake and pretended to be Santa Claus. He then proposes to his teams to organize a follow-up of Santa Claus to be able to answer the children's questions and this, during all his tour during the day of December 24, with, for example, his location and his approximate arrival time in the child's chimney.
A tradition, really?
This idea may seem unusual, especially for a command center of this importance. However, the tradition of Santa Claus is much more deeply rooted in North America than in Europe. Since 1955, under the impulse of Colonel Shoup, nicknamed "Colonel Santa", every December 24, NORAD makes it a point of honor to organize the NORAD Tracks Santa operation, in order to respond to children wishing to know Santa's position or to have technical information on his sleigh. With the modernization of systems and especially the internet, the operation includes social networks, videos on the operation shot by military personnel, or a website of live tracking, with the possibility of having direct information on Santa. With the help of the various branches of the Department of Defense, the Canadian Armed Forces and several private companies, nearly 1,250 American or Canadian military and civilians are involved in this operation on a volunteer basis.
At the end, this operation collects a very great success since in the last years, it was nearly 20 million views on the website that were recorded each December 24, not counting the many phone calls to the volunteers.
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