Tracking 'NORAD Tracks Santa'

By : Subscribe to Samyuktha's | December 25, 2010 5:16 PM IST

Santa Claus is alive! He has already finished delivering Christmas gifts to good girls and boys across countries like Australia, South Africa, England, Germany and India, as of 2:33 EST. He is currently making his way through Brazil and won't rest until he travels across the globe and all the presents delivered. And for all those kids who want to track Santa and his journey, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Google are making it happen. 'NORAD Tracks Santa', an annual Christmas tradition, is gaining popularity like never before. But did you know that the U.S. military department NORAD, which provides aerospace warning and control for North America 365 days a year, has been keeping a close eye on Santa's flight since 1955?

A child fathered the idea of tracking Santa

Even though the Santa tracking service began on December 24, 1955, the tradition actually took birth as early as 1897 with a New York Sun editorial. In 1897, a certain Virginia O' Hanlon wrote a letter to the Sun on Santa Claus, which even today is considered as the most famous example of a child wanting to know about Santa.

Virginia got an editorial response, which began saying, "Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except that which they see.They think that nothing can be which isnot comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little."

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"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy," the letter went on, before concluding, "No Santa Claus!? Thank God! He lives and lives forever."  [ Read letter ]

Mistake in ad put NORAD into the business of tracking Santa

NORAD was put into the business of tracking Santa Claus on December 24, 1955, after the commander-in-chief's telephone began ringing on Christmas eve with callers seeking Santa-hotline. A misprinted advertisement in a Sears & Roebuck catalogue led children eager to speak to Santa into dialling the number of Colorado Springs' Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center.

"Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number," read the ad with the incorrect number.

Colonel Harry Shoup, who has come to be known as the 'Santa Colonel', was on duty that night. The Colonel chose not to hang up and directed his operators find the location of Santa Claus and reported it to every child who phoned in that night, according to NORAD's official website.

Behind the scenes

NORAD replaced CONAD in 1958, but the tradition continued. The programme relied heavily on volunteers, most of whom were employees at Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson Air Force Base. According to a CNN report published on 2009 Christmas eve, each volunteer handled about 39 calls per hour in 2008, the team used 100 phones and 25 computers to handle 69,845 calls and 6,086 e-mails from more than 200 countries.

NORAD claims it deploys all its satellite and radar capabilities to track Santa's sleigh-locations. It uses radar systems called the North Warning System, with 47 installations across Canada and Alaska. Besides this, satellite imagery, carefully placed 'Santa Cams' throughout the world to videotape Santa's passage and arrival, and jet fighters are used

"We say that Santa slows down for the F-15, F-16, and F-22 fighters which intercept and follow him," Army Major Mike Humphreys, of NORAD and US Northern Command Public Affairs, is quoted as saying in a 2009 report.

Media-aided popularity growth: Internet and Social Media

Over the years, NORAD made use of a variety of media to keep the service alive, including telephone hotline, newspapers, radio, phonograph records and television. Some media organisations even chose to feature NORAD Tracks Santa as part of their weather updates on Christmas Eve. Video and still imagery was made available through the Digital Video and Imagery Distribution System (DiVIDS), which distributes and markets DoD imagery.

With the advent of the internet, NORAD in 1997 also opted for the medium that was growing rapidly in terms of connectivity and ease of fuctioning. The NORAD Tracks Santa website (www.noradsanta.com) gets functional on December 1 of every year. If a browser lands on the page anywhere between January and November, the visiter is informed to come back on 1st of December to 'track Santa with NORAD'. In the month of December, the visiters can enjoy all features on offer.

In a couple of years NORAD got the attention of internet behemonth. In 2004, Google started tracking Santa on Google Earth as a 20 percent project. This grew into a full-fledged partnership in 2007, Google added the mapping technology of Google Maps and Google Earth to the NORAD experience.

On December 9, 2008, Google announced that NORAD started using Google Analytics in 2007 on their incredibly popular 'NORAD Tracks Santa' website.

"They were very pleasantly surprised - the numbers were an early Christmas gift," Google said on its 2008 blog.

Inputs from  Analytics helped NORAD project and scale volunteer staffing, telephone equipment, and computer equipment needs for Christmas Eve.

Then came the social media, NORAD did not think twice to plunge into it. 'Norad Tracks Santa' has presence on social networking giant Facebook, microblogging site Twitter, video-sharing site YouTube, the online video site from the U.S. military via their organization Military OneSource TroopTube, and photo-sharing website Flickr.

Since 2007, NORAD's service has gained global popularity due to the visibility Google gave it. As it spread its growing presence to the social media, not only did the service attract more takers but also invited extensive media coverage. In comparison over the years, there has been far more international publications on 'NORAD Tracks Santa' since 2007.

The Present

"Every Christmas Eve, children all over the world ask themselves-and their parents-questions about Santa's magical journey. How does Santa visit so many children in one night? Will he eat the cookies I left out? How does he fit all those presents into his sleigh? These childhood mysteries are part of what makes the Santa tradition so special," said Google on its official blog on Christmas Eve, announcing that the much-awaited Santa Tracker will continue the tradition even in 2010.

Google listed the ways to track Santa, including Google Map, Google Earth Plug-in, on mobile phones, YouTube channel, real-time information about Santa's locations.

Looks like eager children - naughty and nice - across the globe are busy tracking the beloved Saint Nicolas, as terms like 'santa norad tracker 2010', 'santa tracker', 'where is santa claus', 'track Santa right now', 'santa claus tracker', 'when will santa be at my house' are burning hot on internet search, according to Google Trends.

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