A delightful Christmas tradition was born on this day in 1955, thanks to the goodwill of an army officer of the US Aerospace Defense Command – and it happened completely by accident.
That year, the Sears department store in Colorado Springs placed an advert inviting children to call Father Christmas on a special phone number. Unfortunately, the number was misprinted - and it put children through to the operations hotline of the US Continental Air Defense Command (Conad).
When the duty director of operations, Colonel Harry Shoup, realised what had happened, he was keen not to disappoint children on Christmas Eve, and directed his staff to give any child who called in a ‘current location’ for Santa Claus.
Officers ‘checked the radar’ for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole and the children who called were updated on his location – and this ‘tracking of Santa’ became an annual event.
In 1958, Conad was superseded by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad), but the tradition continued. Every year, the organisation's staff and their family and friends volunteer for ‘tracking’ duty from the morning of December 24 to the early hours of Christmas Day.
Apart from the hotline, the Track Santa programme utilised newspapers, television, radio and even records to bring joy to children at Christmas. Since 1997, a website with a countdown clock and interactive areas has added to the fun.
Photo credit: NORAD