NORTH POLE — Everyone is familiar with the elves who toil away in Santa’s workshop, building lots and lots of toys for happy girls and boys. But there’s another crew of unsung heroes who work just as hard in the hours leading up to Christmas Day.
More than 1,000 strong, they are the volunteers of NORAD Tracks Santa, which enables kids from 1 to 92 to keep track of jolly old St. Nick’s whereabouts as he makes his way around the world.
Once Santa takes off from the North Pole on Christmas Eve, a website at www.noradsanta.org is updated each hour, when it’s midnight in a different time zone. Volunteers take their stations in Colorado Springs around 5 a.m. EST for two-hour shifts, though many often stay longer out of excitement, according to a press release by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The website,which attracts tens of millions of unique visitors from more than 200 countries and generates more than a 100,000 phone calls each year, is available in eight languages: English, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese.
Besides following Santa, visitors to the site can play games, watch videos and movie trailers, listen to music, visit an online library, and even explore the North Pole.
There’s also a gift shop offering “Official Tracker” T-shirts, hoodies, hats and tote bags, and more.
For the majority of the year, NORAD’s main purpose is to protect airspace around the U.S. and Canada, but each December, uniformed personnel and civilians alike volunteer their time to monitor Santa’s journey.
The tradition began more than 60 years ago with a wrong number printed by Sears & Roebuck for kids to call Santa Claus. Instead of reaching Kris Kringle, the number put kids through to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), NORAD’s predecessor.
Rather than inform kids they had the wrong number, Col. Harry Shoup, then-director of operations for CONAD, had his staff check the radar for signs of Santa’s journey and give updates to the young callers.
In addition to tracking Santa on the website, you can call (877) 446-6723 (that’s (877) HI-NORAD) — which works with Skype, too — to talk to a staff member, as well as send emails to email@example.com.
Santa also can be tracked on your mobile devices with apps available for both Android and iPhone. In addition, NORAD Tracks Santa has accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Newsline 360.
A word of advice to enthusiastic trackers: Santa delivers presents between 9 p.m. and midnight, so it’s important that you don’t stay up too late following his travels. After all, he sees you when you’re sleeping and he knows when you’re awake.
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3341