How The Red Menace Spawned a Christmas Tradition: The Story of the NORAD Santa Tracker

[DIGEST: NYTimes, NORADSanta, PaleoFuture]

On December 24, families across the world will snuggle their children, sing Christmas carols, and nibble on candy canes, all while engaging in that age-old Christmas Eve pastime: tracking the flight of Santa Claus and his reindeer across the skies on their computer screens. The website, may be relatively new, but the idea behind it is sixty years old. And it almost never happened but for a Sears advertisement in December 1955.


The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or, NORAD, is a bi-national effort by American and Canadian governments to track and monitor the skies above the continent for any indication of an air strike by enemy aircraft. In its early days, it was known as CONAD, or Continental Air Defense Command. The story of the NORAD Santa Tracker begins with a special red telephone on the desk of the CONAD commander in chief.

A Myth Within A Myth

By 1955, the Cold War was well underway, inducing widespread hysteria over potential Soviet military airstrikes. In response, CONAD had established a special telephone line that, if it were to ring, would alert the headquarters to Soviet warplanes in North American skies. In the Colorado CONAD headquarters, a dapper and charismatic Colonel Harry W. Shoup was in charge when the red phone one day began to ring.

When Col. Shoup answered, he got a surprise: A small boy asked to speak to Santa Claus. Suspecting a prank, Shoup interrogated the child until the mother took the phone, with wailing in the background. Shoup quickly realized what had happened, then also realized he would be getting similar phone calls all night long. In an act of kindness that sparked a cherished holiday tradition, the Colonel, a father of four, decided that children

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