Vintage Footage Reveals How NORAD Tracks Santa

This Christmas Eve, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will have tracked Santa Claus’s journey around the world for 60 years.

A NORAD staff member uses a radar scope to monitor Santa’s progress.
(Still from Claus: NORAD Tracks Santa, Local Identifier: 330-DVIC-39346)

Colonel Harry Shoup began the tradition in 1955, after receiving a phone call from a child expecting to reach Santa Claus. The misdirected call was the result of the child reversing two numbers of a Santa Line phone number printed in a Sears advertisement.

Colonel Shoup ran with the idea, and began releasing updates on Santa’s whereabouts to the press.

In 1974, the NORAD released this footage to television stations in order to show the public how NORAD’s Santa tracking operations worked.

This year, 1,250 volunteers will staff the NORAD phone lines. The volunteers are a mix of Canadian and American military personnel and Department of Defense civilians. The Santa Tracker hotline can be reached at 1(877)446-6723 starting at 3AM MST on December 24th and continuing through 3AM MST on December 25th. You can also e-mail for an update on Santa’s location on Christmas Eve. Visit NORAD’s Santa Tracker online to follow the jolly old man’s travels, play games, or learn more about the project.

You can hear Colonel Shoup’s children reminisce about their father in this lovely StoryCorps piece.

For much more on the history of NORAD’s Santa Tracker, see this article, which traces the operation over the past 60 years.