The NORAD Santa Tracker is a tradition like no other. Now in its 58th year, the operation has evolved from a simple phone line, staffed by volunteers, to an international web presence, complete with mobile apps, social media channels and corporate partnerships. The service is beloved by children all over the world and has taken on a life of its own.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the NORAD Santa Tracker:
- It all started with a mistake in a Colorado Springs newspaper. An ad for Sears mistakenly listed the phone number of the Continental Air Defense Command Center, in Colorado Springs. Colonel Harry Shoup, the on-duty operator that night, instructed his staff to provide Santa’s location to any child who called. That night, December 24, 1955, a tradition was born.
- The operation is staffed by volunteers, who handle more than 100,000 phone calls each year. In recent years, First Lady Michelle Obama volunteered to answer calls.
- Microsoft, one of the federal government’s most important partners, helped upgrade the NORAD Santa website. It’s built with HTML5 and works in seven languages, and it launched with a Windows phone app. Microsoft also provides the maps for the project.
- The NORAD team uses Google Analytics data from previous years to prepare for the surge of traffic they see each Christmas Eve.
- Volunteers are guided by an 11-page playbook that provides answers to the most commonly asked questions.
- The NORAD Santa Tracker has more than 1 million Facebook fans. Its YouTube channel has had more than 8 million views.
- In 2012, the website was visited by 22.3 million unique visitors.
- The initiative is popular but not without controversy. This year, an animation on the site depicted Santa’s sleigh being escorted by fighter jets, sparking complaints from a children’s advocacy group.
- NORAD has competition. Google used to provide maps via Google Earth for NORAD Santa but now runs its own Santa tracking operation.
- The NORAD Santa Tracker relies entirely on corporate sponsors and uses no taxpayer dollars.