It was Christmas Eve 1955 and Col. Harry Shoup picked up his secret hotline at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, expecting a phone call from a four-star general at the Pentagon.
Instead he heard a child asking “Is this Santa Claus?”
Shoup was expecting reports of a possible nuclear attack and initially was annoyed. But when the child started to cry, he acted more joyful and then asked how the boy got his number.
Apparently a ‘Sears’ ad in a newspaper printed a phone number for Santa, telling children to call day nor night. But instead of printing the store’s number, they (coincidentally) put down Col. Shoup’s secret line.
Calls began to flood in and Shoup instructed his airmen to answer them and pretend to be Santa for the children.
The tradition continued every year and evolved into NORAD’s Santa Tracking software. NORAD tweeted over the weekend not to be alarmed by the government shutdown as the Santa Tracking software would still be working.
In the event of a government shutdown, NORAD will continue with its 63-year tradition of NORAD Tracks Santa on Dec. 24. Military personnel who conduct NORAD Tracks Santa are supported by approximately 1,500 volunteers who make the program possible each and every year. pic.twitter.com/fY0oyjrdDc— NORAD & USNORTHCOM (@Norad_Northcom) December 21, 2018
According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, thousands of calls and emails from children around the world are answered on Christmas Eve. They ask for Santa’s location and talk about their Christmas lists.
However, nowadays Santa can’t talk to the big man himself anymore. Volunteers are told to tell the children that Santa is busy delivering presents.
The tradition has now outlived its two accidental creators. Schoup died in 2009 and Sears filed for bankruptcy back in October.