EARLY YEARS: NORAD’S Santa Tracker celebrating 66th year of helping make holiday memories

The tradition started in 1955, thanks to a misprinted phone number
Radars, satellites and fighter jets work together to follow Rudolph's red nose on Christmas Eve
Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 5:51 AM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - How Santa Claus delivers toys to girls and boys all over the world is a little less of a mystery, thanks to NORAD Santa Tracking.

But did you know it all began with a misprinted phone number? It’s a story that Captain Alexandra Hejduk, a NORAD Media Operations Officer with the Canadian Armed Forces, is proud to share.

“A local Sears catalog in 1955 had this great idea to encourage children to call Santa, actually call him up and speak with Santa Claus, except they’d misprinted that number by one digit. And it happened to call into our operations center for continental air defense that command, at the time, eventually became NORAD,” says Captain Hejduk.

Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup answered that first phone call from a child, asking if he was Santa.

“He knew right away what had happened, smart guy, and he just played along with it,” says Captain Hejduk.

From there, a holiday tradition was born.

It’s grown from that call center to a real time tracking of Santa, using a mix of radar, satellites and fighter jets.

“All those things we use on a day-to-day basis, we use for that extra special mission on the 24th,” says Hejduk. “The exact same heat signature that happens with Rudolph’s red nose is the exact same heat signature of a missile.”

That is high-tech!

While the technology has grown, with its website and mobile apps, the holiday joy NORAD brings remains the same. But Santa’s route does not.

“The route is top secret, by the way. We try to crack it. We’re not able to - but I think it’s because the list changes every year, too, right?” says Hejduk.

That’s the nice list she’s talking about.

Perhaps our most crucial question for Captain Hejduk, what is the magical time for kids to get to bed on Christmas Eve?

“The insider tip is, you need to be in bed at the latest, the absolute latest, by 9:00. Because the trick is, he won’t visit your house if you’re not asleep.”

Click here for a link to the NORAD Santa Tracker, so you and your family can keep tabs on Santa on Christmas Eve!

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