The Santa Tracker first started by accident, and now 60 years later, the program keeping parents and kids up to date on Santa’s Christmas Eve journey has grown larger than ever before and spawned a number of alternatives ways to follow Santa.
NORAD’s Santa Tracker was born on Christmas Eve in 1955, the result of a newspaper misprint. An advertisement printed a phone number where kids could talk directly to Santa Claus, but instead, the number went to the air defense center in Colorado Springs.
As KTVA noted, NORAD decided to run with it.
“The commander at the time said, ‘We’re just going to take all these calls and give updates to everybody as we see him flying around the world,’” said Alaska NORAD Region identification technician Staff Sgt. Brian Garverick.
The Santa Tracker has grown in the last six decades, and today has spawned a number of other programs that let kids track Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
As Garverick noted, Santa never seems to take the same route twice. Normally, he heads south along the International Dateline, giving kids in the South Pacific the first crack at toys — but not always.
“It’s different every year just because of weather and I think Santa likes to keep us on our toes,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure we make a lot of kids happy just by knowing, ‘Yeah he’s coming, he’s on his way,’” added mission crew commander Capt. Alain Gagnon.
The NORAD website can be found here. Families who want to use the NORAD Santa Tracker can talk to a live operator by calling 877-Hi-NORAD (877-446-6723) or get an update by e-mail at email@example.com. Santa’s elves are apparently big on social media too, with at a NORAD Facebook page and Twitter handle @NoradSanta.
There are alternatives to the NORAD Santa Tracker as well, including the popular Google Santa Tracker app. This not only has a Christmas Eve map of Santa’s journey, but also games for kids to play and a countdown to Christmas.
— Google Maps (@googlemaps) December 14, 2015
Every year hundreds of thousands of people use NORAD to track Santa Claus as he makes his journey around the world: https://t.co/dDg0ToQrDN
— 12 News (@12News) December 16, 2015
The Santa Tracker isn’t the only way kids and their families can follow Santa Claus around Christmas time. There are also other sites and apps that give kids a chance to communicate directly with the man in the big red suit, including one where kids can get a progress report on where they stand this year.
Kids can also get a personalized letter from Santa through the United States Postal Service. Parents can help their children write a letter, then write their own reply from Santa Claus and slip it inside a self-addressed stamped envelope. They can send the entire thing in through the mail to an address in Alaska, and the postal service will send back the self-addressed envelope with a stamp from the North Pole.
While it’s a popular way to communicate with Santa, the window for getting a letter is now closed. The postal service said all letters must be mailed by December 15 in order to send the Santa letters out in time.
But there are still other options. Portable North Pole, a site that has grown in popularity in the past few years, is a great complement to the Santa Tracker and gives kids a chance to get a personalized message from Santa Claus. Parents are able to go the the website and craft a personalized letter, choosing either a free video or one of seven that are offered to premium users. A good way to keep kids interested while they’re waiting for the Santa Tracker to start.
[Image via Portable North Pole]