For the 50th year in a row, personnel at the North American Aerospace Defense Command are tracking Santa Claus as he makes his yearly rounds.
According to NORAD, Santa began his journey early Wednesday morning at the International Date Line in the Pacific. As of 2 p.m. West University Place time, he had already visited such places as the South Pacific, Australia, Japan, China, Southeast Asia and Russia, and was making deliveries in Oman in the Middle East.
He is next expected to head to the African continent; however, only Santa knows which stop comes next, NORAD said.
Last year, the Santa Tracking Center at NORAD fielded more than 94,000 telephone calls and answered more than 10,000 e-mails asking about Santa’s route. In addition, some 10.6 million visitors went to the Santa Tracker website, which can be viewed in English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Japanese and Chinese.
NORAD began tracking Santa by accident when, in 1955, a Colorado newspaper printed an ad that included a telephone number for children to talk to Santa. The number was off by one digit and calls instead went to NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command.
Not wanting to disappoint the children who called, the commander gave callers information on Santa’s current location, starting an annual tradition that NORAD assumed when it formed in 1958. This year marks NORAD’s 50th anniversary of tracking Santa as he travels the world delivering gifts.
Since its early years, the program has grown significantly, particularly after it was put on the Internet in 1998. Last year, the website, www.noradsanta.org, registered visitors from 212 countries and territories literally across the globe.
In addition, more than 1,000 volunteers staff the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center every Christmas Eve.
During a recent speech, Air Force General Victor E. “Gene” Renuart talked about the NORAD Tracks Santa program.
“This is not necessarily national defense,” Renuart said of the special holiday program. “But it is a mission we have taken great pride in over the years and that has connected us with communities around the world.
Giving hopeful children information on Santa is one of the more heartwarming tasks his personnel have, he added.
“It is the most wonderful experience you can ever imagine to talk to children from literally all over the world who want to know where Santa is and ‘When is he going to be at my house?’” Renuart said.
The answer, of course, is “after you’ve gone to sleep.”