Last week, President Donald Trump opted not to sign a stopgap funding bill approved by Congress, increasing the risk of a partial government shutdown. Lo and behold, the government did shut down, the third such closure of the Trump presidency.
The shutdown means many federal employees will not be paid until the matter is resolved, which likely won’t be until after the New Year. Amid the sobering news, it brings a twinkle to our eyes to know the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) still tracked Santa’s journey, as it has for the last 63 years.
This year, the NORAD Santa website and hotline, 1-877-HI-NORAD, was manned by around 1,500 volunteers who took calls and answered emails from children around the world inquiring about Santa’s whereabouts “with the help of satellite systems, high-powered radars and jet fighters.”
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
In 1955, a child trying to reach Santa Claus on a hotline number provided in a Sears advertisement misdialed the number and instead reached Colonel Harry Shoup, who was a Crew Commander at CONAD, or Continental Air Defense Command, and manned a top-secret line reserved for reporting a crisis.
Reportedly, Shoup was gruff with the child, but then identified himself as Santa Claus and played along. He later took calls from other children who were curious about Santa’s whereabouts.
Then Shoup saw an excellent public relations opportunity. That was when he asked CONAD’s public relations officer, Colonel Barney Oldfield, to inform the press that CONAD was tracking Santa’s sleigh.
“CONAD, Army, Navy and Marine Air Forces will continue to track and guard Santa and his sleigh on his trip to and from the U.S. against possible attack from those who do not believe in Christmas,” Oldfield said in his press release.
The origin story has grown rather muddled over the years (Shoup himself told several different versions), but you can learn more about NORAD’s beginnings by watching the video below.
People are thrilled that the tradition is alive and well, government shutdown be damned.
You guys are awesome!! Thank you for keeping childlike hopes alive, even in the face of such petty adult temper tantrums. It’s compromise that’s supposed to make the World go ’round, looks like this year it’ll be 🎅 with NORAD’s helpers!
— Angela Tuel (@gelatuel) December 22, 2018
1,500 thanks to you guys from us in Montréal, Canada 🇨🇦 You really rocks ! And we wish you a quick return to normal for your government . (& less chaos in Washington) our children LOVES to watch all day where Santa is on the globe. A great tradition in our family. 🌍🎅🏻👫
— Annie de Saint Riquier (@AnnieRiquier) December 22, 2018
Because some things are bigger than politics. Thank you all on both sides of the border who defend our freedoms, and equally important, defend Santa!
— Daniel L Little (@HalifaxAuthor) December 21, 2018
My daughter has spent hours today, following Santa’s journey, thank you for a magical memory.
— wendy mathias (@wendymathias2) December 24, 2018
Great job! Keep up the great work and the skies clear! #MerryChristmas
— Clint Farnworth (@Clint_Bean) December 25, 2018
Our hearts have grown several sizes today thinking of all these volunteers who worked to keep spirits bright.