The Star-Herald

Finding Santa

The older I become, the more convinced I am of one thing: I will never outgrow Christmas.

In the Christian tradition, Christmas of course has a spiritual meaning, but whatever your traditions are, it’s a time of increased goodwill, favorite music, magical lights, family gatherings, delectable treats — and Santa.

If you’re young, or young at heart, pay attention: You may not be quite ready to snuggle down and await visions of sugarplums, but there’s a way to keep close tabs on the Jolly Old Elf and his reindeer. Look no further than NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

For 63 years, NORAD and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), have tracked Santa’s flight on Christmas Eve. The interactive website www.noradsanta.org has all the details — from holiday music, books and games, to “Secret Santa” files and an up-to-the-second countdown to takeoff.

This all began quite by accident, according to NORAD headquarters. A 1955 Sears advertisement, containing a phone number for children to call Santa, contained a fateful misprint. Calls actually went to the CONAD commander-in-chief’s hotline. Col. Harry Shoup, who then was director of operations there, didn’t want to put off any Santa seekers, so he obligingly had staff check the radar for indications of the sleigh traveling from the North Pole. Thus began the annual tradition.

So, how do they track the man in the red suit?

NORAD, which is a U.S./Canadian organization charged with aerospace and maritime defense warning for North America, has some 1,500 volunteers who man telephones and computers, answering calls and emails from folks around the world. The NORAD Tracks Santa website says staffers use satellites, high-powered radar, jet fighters and special “Santa cameras” to track Santa’s journey.

Nearly 9 million visit the site yearly, NORAD says, from more than 200 countries and territories around the world. The site is available with live updates in eight languages. In total, volunteers receive 12,000 emails and more than 70,000 phone calls.

You might wonder how NORAD achieves this technical marvel in such a short concentration of time. Goodwill and generous spirits have everything to do with that, as the site explains: “The NTS program is funded through generous contributions from our corporate team. Everything from computer servers, website design, video imaging, Santa’s tracking map, and telephone services are donated.”

NORAD staff have even dedicated a section of the website to share some of the messages and questions they receive.

Here’s one: “What’s Santa’s favorite cookie?” An animated Santa shares the obvious: “A plate full of cookies.”

They run the gamut, from “Tell Rudolph I said hi and I like his nose,” to “Can you tell me if my brother is on the naughty list?” and “Will I get more presents if I leave cheese?”

Of course, the North Pole is equipped with the latest technology: Track Santa via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and TroopTube.tv. Just type in @noradsanta into a search engine to join the tracking activity.

So go ahead. Bake the cookies, pour the cider, turn on the sparkling lights, and take time to enjoy the magic of the season. The best gifts involve time shared with those you love.

Paula Brewer is the assistant editor at Northeast Publishing. She can be reached at pbrewer@bangordailynews.com or (207)764-4471.

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