Families on vacation with little kids far from home on Christmas night can watch Santa's flight -- as he passes by both the family home, and the vacation location -- thanks to the "Official NORAD Santa Tracker."
NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has been tracking Santa since way back in the fifties, when a child in Colorado dialed a number for a Santa call-in line, and got the Continental Air Defense Command --NORAD's precursor-- on the line instead.
Seems that a Sears Roebuck & Co. store had run an ad for kids to call Santa on a special "hotline", but the number was printed wrong. Fortunately, the Director of Operations at CONAD played along; as the kids called in, he pretended to have his staff track Santa on their radar. For years afterwards, NORAD provided a call-in line at Christmas that gave updates about Santa through the night.
Today, the online NORAD Tracks Santa site gets millions of hits on Christmas night. Every year, the visual display gets spiffier, and kids can now track Santa on Google Maps and Google Earth, but it hardly matters: the magic for a child is in seeing Santa's flight tracked by an official aerospace agency. It's especially fun to have a look at this website if you happen to have a child who's beginning to doubt Saint Nick.
Families spending Christmas far from home may want to track Santa on a smartphone; free apps are available in the Apple iTunes Store and in the Android Market. The "NORAD Tracks Santa" site tweets and Facebooks, too. Also, the website is now available in eight languages.
Even before Christmas night, kids can have fun checking the site: countdown starts on December 1st, and kids can explore and play games at a North Pole "Countdown" activity page.
Parents can also check the official NORAD site, which has updates about its Santa preparations.
Norad's been tracking Santa's flight for over 50 years. Many thanks to the men and women at these serious-business agencies who take the time, and have the heart and the sense of humor, to create these experiences for our kids.