The first ever ‘sighting’ of Santa heading out from the North Pole came in 1948 and has since then become an intricate symphony using the latest technology and media.
This one-time event came courtesy of the United States Air Force, done in part to mention that its new early warning northern radar system was active. The first actual ‘report’ and tracking of Santa — which would become an annual event — came in 1955 when the Continental Air Defence Command (CONAD) in the U.S. saw an opportunity for some publicity.
Now, there are a couple of different versions of how it came about, but the most accurate account, according to Wikipedia, finds that a child called a number found in a newspaper ad to talk to Santa, which happened to contain one wrong digit leading to the boy calling somewhere within the CONAD building. It would be a few weeks later when the crew commander on duty spotted a crew member tracking an unidentified aircraft with a photo of Santa. It was that which would trigger the now popular Santa Tracker.
The commander requested the CONAD public relations office to send out a release stating they were tracking Santa’s progress and guarding him on his journey across the U.S.
This was also supposed to be a one-shot deal, but the next year the public relations office informed the commander that the press was waiting for an update on Santa’s progress and the tradition was born.
Two years later, in 1958, patrolling the skies over the U.S. and Canada was taken over by the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) and the reports started to be more elaborate such as the Royal Canadian Air Force providing regular updates of an ‘obviously friendly sleigh operated by S. Claus’. There was even a notice sent out stating interceptor aircraft responded to an ‘emergency landing by the sleigh’ on Hudson Bay and then assisted him on resuming his journey.
NORAD would, in 1981, open a phone line for the public to call for Santa progress updates, which now relies on a large group of volunteers to answer the calls as well as emails while the website www.NORADSanta.org allows people online viewing access. There is also a highly visible presence in other ways, with its own Facebook and Twitter pages and an app for both Apple and Android phones complete with updates and an interactive game.
Now while NORAD is by far the leader in following Santa, the other most popular online tracker comes from Google (santatracker.google.com).
This feature, basically operated through Google Maps, began 13 years ago as an educational and interactive way to watch Santa’s progress around the world.
Google’s Santa Tracker opened up Dec. 1, and while including a countdown, the feature includes a little village complete with games and other visitor experiences that provide the opportunity to practice basic coding skills, create original artwork, exercise some knowledge of geography and learn more about charitable education organizations.
Each day that passes opens up a new feature within the website, which gets kids and families coming back for more.
As well as the desktop website, the feature is available on mobile apps for both Apple and Android.