Christmas Eve means it’s time to follow Santa your smartphone.
Starting early Saturday, Santa fans of all ages can keep tabs on St. Nick’s progress on NORAD’s Santa Tracker homepage to see exactly where in the world he is until the wee hours of Christmas morning.
Kids who can’t wait that long can visit the “Countdown Village,” which has nearly two dozen holiday-themed games to play while waiting for Christmas Eve to arrive.
For users who aren’t sitting home Saturday, the NORAD Santa Tracker is available on iOS and Android apps, too.
NORAD does more than track Santa’s journey from the North Pole. During the rest of the year, NORAD protects the skies of North America, monitoring for any signs of attack by aircraft, missiles or space vehicles.
But at this time of year, NORAD tracks one very important object in space, Santa’s sleigh, seen by many as a natural extension of the agency’s regular duties.
“His flight is something that we absolutely would track,” said NORAD spokesman Lieutenant Commander Bill Lewis to the Chicago Tribune. “Rudolph’s nose helps us quite a bit with that. His nose puts off quite the heat signature.”
The Santa Tracker originated in 1955, when a Sears Roebuck ad published the wrong phone number for children to call to speak with Santa, instead directing them to a secret military defense line. Defense personnel on the other end played along and filled in callers with information about Santa’s progress from the North Pole.
Since then, NORAD made Santa tracking a yearly tradition, although the advent of computers and, now, mobile devices may get more people involved than ever before.
Now, NORAD tracks Santa with help from Google, which provides mapping and location data and a Gmail account for the program.
It takes more than 1,200 volunteers to run the tracking program and answer people’s calls and e-mails wanting to know where Santa is right now. NORAD reportedly uses high-tech systems to track Santa these days as well, including radar, satellites, Santa cams and fighter jets.
Technology also plays a role in how NORAD publicizes the program, and the Santa Tracker has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and other social media sites.
NORAD is expecting tens of millions of page and map views this Christmas as Santa once again makes his historic journey, bringing a little old-fashioned Christmas into the digital age.
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