NORAD's Santa Tracker started by accident, now it's a Christmas tradition

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The pandemic isn't stopping Santa from making his annual trip around the world.

Every Christmas Eve, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) adjusts its satellites to track Santa and help keep him safe on his journey.

Action News caught up with the folks at NORAD to learn a little more about how the magic happens.

Santa has been delivering toys to good little girls and boys for centuries, packing up his sleigh and taking to the sky with his eight, and sometimes nine, reindeer to guide him through the night.

But it wasn't until the 1950's when he got a little extra assistance from NORAD to make sure he wouldn't run into any trouble.

And it all started by accident.

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"We had had a newspaper ad in the local newspaper here that they had misprinted, the phone number, and they actually put the phone number to our command center there," said Stacey Knott, NORAD Strategic Communication Manager.

"And that night, one of our colonels on duty, Harold, answered the phone and heard a little child's voice asking if he was Santa," she said.

"He directed everybody to talk to the children that night and to talk to them and tell them that, you know, that they were tracking Santa, and to visit with each of the children."

And from that, a tradition was born. For the last 65 years, on Christmas Eve, NORAD has re-calibrated the same radar and satellites it uses year-round to peak in on Ol' Saint Nick.

"We also have our special Santa cameras that are set up as special locations like the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Big Ben over in London, England and special places where we spot Santa as he's flying during the night," Knott said.

Their exclusive Santa Tracker has become a tool for kids around the world to check in on Kris Kringle before bed.

NORAD says their call center fields more than 100,000 calls each year, and the Santa Tracker website has more than 30 million visitors on Christmas Eve from all around the globe.

"Cause it's at no cost to any of the people who want to track Santa with this. And we also don't use any taxpayer dollars to make this happen," Knott said.

And through the years working with Santa, they've learned a few inside details on the Christmas magic - like the speed of Santa's reindeer. Knott said they can actually travel faster than starlight!

"In fact, our jets, our fighter jets. He slows down for our fighter jets to come up beside him. Pilots will wave, and then he continues on his magical journey," she said.

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So don't forget to leave some treats for the reindeer to fuel back up when they stop by your house! NORAD said Santa's reindeer love oats, carrots, and candy canes.

But the most important thing for kids to remember is, "if you're not in bed and you're not asleep, Santa won't stop at your house," Knott said.

There are several ways for you to track Santa with your family on Christmas Eve: You can go online to noradsanta.org or call 1-877-HI-NORAD.
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