FILE – In this Dec. 24, 2012, file photo, volunteers take phone calls from children asking where Santa is and when he will deliver presents to their house during the annual NORAD Tracks Santa Operation, at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.De wildly popular NORAD Tracks Santa operation, the launch of its 61st run at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. Volunteers answer phone calls and e-mails, and post updates about Santa’s storybook world tour on Facebook and Twitter. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Children from around the world call on the North American Aerospace Defense Command to ask where Santa is, and they get a cheerful response about the mythical route.
The wildly popular NORAD Tracks Santa operation is his 61st run at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. Volunteers are answering calls and e-mails and posting updates about Santa’s storybook world tour on Facebook and Twitter.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Paul Noel said the 1,500 volunteers answered almost 141,000 calls and more than 2,800 e-mails from last year. The NORAD spokesman is quick to say that his name is Noel.
Here is a look at the Christmas tradition:
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Children can call a toll-free number, 877-446-6723 (877-Hi-NORAD), or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to ask where Santa is on his legendary journey.
Volunteers work in shifts, taking the last calls at 3 a.m. MST on christmas day.
The volunteers sit elbow to elbow in the meeting rooms at Peterson Air Force Base, NORAD’s house, answering phones and checking by the computer-generated maps projected onto large screens. First lady Michelle Obama traditional answers calls via a remote connection, but Noel said it was still not known whether or not they want to participate this year.
Elsewhere on the Air Force base, volunteers update NORAD website www.noradsanta.org), Facebook page (facebook.com/noradsanta) and Twitter feed (@NoradSanta).
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NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command chief of staff Maj. Gen. Charles D. Luckey joins volunteers take calls from children about Santa’s whereabouts.
Last year, the website had 22 million unique visitors, Noel said.
WHY NORAD ‘TRACK’ SANTA?
It started in 1955 when a Colorado Springs newspaper ad invited kids to call Santa Claus but mistakenly listed the hotline number at the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD’s predecessor.
Air force Colonel Harry Shoup took a call from a child, and thought that he was pranked. When he figured out he was talking with a young boy, he pretended he was Santa.
More children are mentioned, and Shoup instructed staff to play with.
It is now a tradition, beloved by the children, and the army. Volunteers range from generals and admirals to enlisted men and women, who sometimes report for telephone duty in a military uniform and a santa hat.
WHAT IS NORAD?
The North American Aerospace Defense Command is a joint U.S.-Canada force that defends the skies over both nations and monitors sea approaches. It is best known for its Cold War-era control room deep in Cheyenne Mountain — now only used as a backup and for NORAD Tracks Santa.