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How NORAD Tracks Santa’s Progress

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been tracking Santa Claus’ progress in delivering Christmas presents to children since 1955. NORAD, which is responsible for protecting the skies over the United States and Canada, activates its tracking system at 6 a.m. Eastern Time each year on Christmas Eve.


“NORAD Tracks Santa” is a holiday tradition that has grown into a massive volunteer operation. NORAD’s radar system has 47 installations across Alaska and northern Canada. The radar system picks up Santa departing from the North Pole and NORAD tracks him by satellites that detect Rudolph’s nose, which gives off an infrared signal similar to that of a missile. 


According to NORAD, Santa’s aircraft measures 75 by 40 by 55 candy canes, or 150 by 80 by 110 lollipops. Its weight at takeoff is 75,000 gumdrops. Passenger weight at takeoff for Santa is 260 pounds, but after all those milk and cookies at the millions of stops on the journey, Santa’s weight at landing is a whopping 1,260 pounds! 

Children and families can track Santa’s progress online at Official NORAD Tracks Santa beginning December 1 each year. Santa can also be tracked by making a phone call to NORAD (1-877-Hi-NORAD) or the “NORAD Tracks Santa” app. Over 70 contributors help set up the website, apps and phone lines, and volunteers help to staff the call center. 


The tradition of tracking Santa began in 1955 in Colorado. A local department store advertisement informed children of how to call Santa, except the number was printed incorrectly. Calls were instead directed to the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center, and Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup and other staff good naturedly continued to answer calls. This kicked off the tradition, albeit in an unusual manner, with NORAD taking over after it was formed in 1958. 


In modern times, tracking Santa is a holiday tradition around the world. The NORAD website includes millions of visitors each year, and there are Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages to follow. Amazon Alexa, OnStar, and Bing also are involved in tracking Santa, and thousands of calls still come into the call center. NORADSanta.org offers a countdown clock, games, and videos that are available in several languages. 


Santa’s route can be influenced by weather, but his Christmas journey begins at the International Date Line. Santa travels west, beginning in the South Pacific, then on to New Zealand and Australia. Santa Claus continues to spread Christmas joy as he hits Japan, Asia, Africa, and Europe before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Canada and the United States. Kris Kringle finishes his incredible yearly jaunt across the globe in Central and South America. 

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