On Christmas Eve in 1955, the red hotline phone rang at the Continental Air Defense Command office (CONAD). Colonel Harry Shoup was the commanding officer and he quickly picked up the phone. On the other end of the line was a young boy asking to speak to Santa Claus. Colonel Shoup wasn’t amused and thought one of his fellow officer was playing a joke on him. But then the phone rang again, this time with another child who began reciting his Christmas list. The calls continued through the night and Colonel Shoup knew he had to get to the bottom of things. After a little investigating, he discovered that the local Sears & Roebuck had produced a holiday advertisement that listed a special phone number so children could call Santa Claus. Unfortunately they misprinted the phone number and instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids straight through to the Commander-in-Chief’s “hotline” phone at CONAD!
Colonel Shoup was a kindly man and rather than ignore the barrage of calls flooding his phone, he came up with a clever idea. In a lovely gesture, he told the children that while he wasn’t Santa, he was quite “in the know” on Santa’s whereabouts. In fact, he claimed that he and his staff could see Santa on their Radar screens as he headed down from the North Pole. Throughout the evening, every child who called received an update on Santa’s progress. Local media heard of the calls and reported the story….and the next year even more calls came flooding in. Colonel Shoup and his team answered every call.
In 1957, COVAD became the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and they continued the tradition. Soon NORAD was partnering with Armed Forces Radio and broadcasting their Santa updates. Children all across the country would tune in eagerly every Christmas Eve to hear updates on Santa’s travels.
Of course, in this day and age Santa has gone global and NORAD maintains the tradition with a really great web site that allows you and your kiddos to track Santa Claus as he makes his Yuletide journey around the world!
Greg discovered the Norad Tracks Santa site a few years ago and we’ve made it a bit of a family tradition. Wolfie loves it and eagerly reports to us which continent Santa is on and when he’s getting closer to our house.
It wasn’t until recently that I became aware of the sweet history behind NORAD and Santa Clause, but I thought it was terrific. Unfortunately Colonel Shoup passed away last year, but his lovely tradition continues to live on, bringing Christmas joy and a sense of wonder to little kiddos everywhere.
Be sure to track Santa with your kiddos this Christmas Eve! You can do so on Norad Tracks Santa. Ho ho ho!