How the team behind NORAD’s Santa tracker prepares for Santa's Christmas Eve sleigh ride

Every year children around the world head to sleep on Christmas Eve in anticipation of Santa's arrival to deliver gifts under their trees. But as he takes flight in his sleigh, a team at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) work all hours of the night to make sure that he is protected and on track.

Lieutenant Colonel Drew Frey of the U.S. Air Force is one of those people who works tirelessly to keep track of Santa and his reindeer, while also taking calls from kids wondering when they might expect the man in the red suit. According to Frey, it's a job that NORAD has been dedicated to since 1955.

"A child saw a phone number in the Sears catalog that was misprinted that called the continental air defense command," he explains to Yahoo Life. "Luckily they had a commander on shift who recognized that this child wants to speak to Santa and took it as such and answered the child's questions."

Video transcript

DREW FREY: NORAD's mission, our top priority, is to provide the defense of the entire continent of North America, protecting the skies of Canada and the United States 365 days a year. And on December 24, that involves Santa Claus.


It all started with one errant phone call back in 1955, when the child saw a phone number in the Sears catalog that was misprinted that called the Continental Air Defense Command. Luckily, they had a commander on shift recognize that this child wants to speak to Santa, and took it as such and answered the child's questions. On Christmas Eve, our command center adds another 500 people to answer calls coming in to track Santa.

We get phone calls that come into our call center of kids trying to find out where Santa is at the time. When's bedtime? Can I squeak out another five minutes to stay up before Santa gets closer? We field all those phone calls and reassure all the children around the world that Santa is going to come to all the good little girls and boys. So I can neither confirm nor deny that Santa Claus visits children between 9 and 12 o'clock at night. But you have to be asleep before he arrives.

We use the same technology to track Santa that we use every day in our mission here at NORAD. It's a combination of three main pieces. We have ground-based radars, called the North Warning System, that are watching from the ground. We also have satellites at a geosynchronous orbit, thousands of miles away. Those satellites pick up Rudolph's nose pretty well, just like it would a missile launch.

Then we have our fighter jets that are on alert. They rendezvous with Santa over Newfoundland, and then escort him safely across North America. He typically works from east to west across the globe. So that's really the first time he enters into our airspace where we're tracking him directly. As soon as he's met over Newfoundland, our pilots give him a little wing wave to let them know that, hey, we're here. We're keeping you safe. And Santa waves back with a big smile on his face and a "ho ho ho" to our pilots.

We've tried to crack the top secret code to figure out Santa's flight path. It varies differently every year, depending on where all those good little girls and boys are. We try to keep him safe and follow him along. But the elves and Santa, they determine their own flight path.

Our team is training for the day-to-day mission every single day of the year. And we add Santa on top of it. It's a special time when you get to make first contact there with Santa. We go about our business, making sure that he's safe going across. And then, we wish him farewell as he goes back to the North Pole for a nice 364-day rest as the elves and Mrs. Claus get ready for next year.

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