WASHINGTON — Santa Claus has made a trip around the world in one night, delivering presents to homes across the globe. NORAD kept track of him throughout the night, just like they've done for more than six decades.
According to NORAD's Santa Tracker, a total of 7,623,693,263 gifts were delivered this year.
While the Santa Tracker website has been online for several weeks, the real show got underway on the morning of Christmas Eve. Starting at 4 a.m. Eastern on Dec. 24, NORAD began tracking Santa with updates from around the world.
Although NORAD allows callers to dial in to find out where Santa is on his journey, for the second year in a row, due to COVID-19 concerns, the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center did not have as many phone operators as usual. So some callers got a recorded message when they called in throughout the day.
The military command has been fielding calls since 1955, when Air Force Col. Harry Shoup — the commander on duty at NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command — fielded a call from a child who dialed a misprinted telephone number in a newspaper department store ad, thinking she was calling Santa.
A fast-thinking Shoup quickly assured his caller that he was. And the tradition began.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden also participated in tradition, answering calls to the Santa tracking service. It is a longstanding tradition for first ladies, but the president joined this year as well.
Today, most early calls come from Japan and Europe, and as the day goes on the callers from the U.S. and Canada climb.
In addition to the phone center and online site, Amazon Alex users can ask for Santa's location using the NORAD Tracks Santa skill on Dec. 24 and OnStar subscribers can use the OnStar service to locate Santa.
NORAD’s mission is to watch the skies above North America for any potential threats. Come early Christmas Eve, the Santa operation begins when a cluster of radar stations in northern Canada and Alaska pick up an infrared signature emanating from Rudolph’s nose. NORAD’s array of geostationary satellites above the Earth monitor the journey.
It’s all shown on large, “unclassified” display screens in a festively decorated command post at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs. Masked volunteers sit at tables equipped with telephones, garland, miniature Christmas trees, plenty of caffeine-laden candy and coffee — and hand sanitizer.
“We Have the Watch,” is NORAD’s military-mission motto.
And when it comes to Santa, NORAD adds:
“Santa calls the shots. We just track him.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.