Santa Claus Is Coming To Town: Follow Him On His Journey On Christmas Eve

NORAD, or North American Aerospace Defense Command, is a bi-national United States and Canadian organization, charged with the missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America.  365 days a year NORAD performs this mission; but, on December 24, NORAD performs an additional mission – tracking Santa around the world! 

NORAD uses four methods of detection and tracking Santa.


Radar:  It all starts with the NORAD radar system called the North Warning System.  This powerful radar system has 47 installations strung across Canada’s North and Alaska. On Christmas Eve, NORAD makes a point of checking the radar closely for indications of Santa Claus leaving the North Pole. The moment our radar tells us that Santa has lifted off, we begin to use the same satellites that we use in providing warning of possible missile launches aimed at North America.


Satellites:  These satellites are located in a geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles above the Earth. The satellites have infrared sensors, meaning they can see heat.  When a rocket or missile is launched, a tremendous amount of heat is produced – enough for the satellites to see them.  Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch.  The satellites detect Rudolph’s bright red nose with no problem.

SantaCams: The third system is the SantaCam.  It was first used in 1998 – the year we put our Santa Tracking program on the Internet. NORAD SantaCams are ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many places around the world.  NORAD only uses these cameras once a year – Christmas Eve. We turn the cameras on about one hour before Santa enters a country then switch them off after we capture images of him and the Reindeer.

Jet Fighters: The last system we use is the NORAD jet fighter.  Canadian NORAD fighter pilots, flying the CF-18, take off out of Newfoundland to intercept and welcome Santa to North America. Then at numerous locations in Canada other CF-18 fighter pilots escort Santa.  While in the United States, American NORAD fighter pilots in either the F-15 or F16 get the thrill of flying with Santa and the famous Reindeer – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph. Even though Santa flies faster than any jet fighter (Santa actually slows down for us to escort him), all of these systems together provide NORAD with a very good continuous picture of his whereabouts

The NORAD Santa Tracker – 2010 By The Numbers:

  • NORAD Tracks Santa Web site received 992,687,131 hits from 210 countries and territories (Nov 17 – Dec 31); on Christmas Eve alone, there were 819,714,567 hits on the site
  • 614,901 telephones calls were placed to the NTS Operations Center; on Christmas Eve alone, 65,355 telephone calls were answered by a Santa tracker – an average of 2,723 calls per hour!
  • 1,278 Santa Tracker volunteers helped yield questions at the NTS Operations Center
  • 18,677 emails were sent to NORAD and 84,400 people sent an email to “Santa” via a link on the NTS Web site.


A Wrong Number From A Sears Ad Started It All………

NORAD has been tracking Santa since December 24, 1955 when a local Colorado Springs newspaper ad ran a Sears Roebuck and Co. advertisement that said “Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct and be sure to dial the correct number.”  The number was misprinted in the ad.  Children who dialed the number actually reached Colonel Harry Shoup, commander on duty in the Air Operations Center.  That night, Colonel Shoup received numerous calls and, rather than hanging up, had his operators “find the location of Santa Claus” on their radars and reported the information to every child who called in that night.

Santa Tracking:

NORAD Tracks Santa Claus with the same satellite system used by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). This site features Santa tracking in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Japanese.