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NORAD declassifies Santa’s location

Sixty-eight years ago, a child accidentally called the super secret "red phone," wanting Santa's location. Now, NORAD tracks Santa every year.
Tessa Robinson Avatar
Volunteers around a table track Santa on phone calls
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.— A photo of the 2018 NORAD Tracks Santa Operation Center on Peterson Air Force Base, CO on December 24. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow/RELEASED)

For 68 years, NORAD, one of the most badass military commands in the country, has taken on a very different, special mission: tracking Santa.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a bi-national organization (United States and Canada) charged with the missions of aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning for North America. That’s right, literally anything and everything coming into U.S. and Canadian Air Space is on NORAD’s radar, including Santa Claus and his reindeer. Instead of keeping Santa’s whereabouts TOP SECRET/SCI, NORAD has declassified his location.

Why does NORAD track Santa?

According to their website, NORAD has been tracking Santa since 1955. On Christmas Eve that year, a young child accidentally dialed an unlisted phone number. Think “red phone.” It was the ops center for what was known as CONAD at the time (Continental Air Defense Command). The child thought she was calling Santa Claus after seeing a promotion in a local newspaper, and the commander on duty that night, Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup, quickly realized it was a mistake. Instead of telling the kiddo she had the wrong number, Shoup guaranteed Santa a safe journey from the North Pole. A tradition was born, and when CONAD became NORAD in 1958, it continued. Children (and the young at heart) could call NORAD for a report on Santa’s location.

What started as a mistaken phone call is now a robust, full-scale military operation. NORAD Tracks Santa Web Site receives over fourteen million visitors from around the world while volunteers field nearly 150,000 phone calls.

This year is no different. On December 24, you too, can find Santa’s whereabouts. Simply call 1-877-HI-NORAD, download their tracking app “NORAD tracks Santa” or visit their website for games, entertainment, and most importantly, the big red guy’s location.

While Santa’s location is open to all on Christmas Eve, some of his movements remain classified:

When they’re not tracking Santa, NORAD does all sorts of amazing squirrely stuff. Our favorite fun fact? It was once fully housed in the Cheyenne Mountain complex – a hardened command and control center literally in the side of a mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

What is NORAD?

NORAD was born at the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s. According to their website, the government wanted a strategic location protected against long-range Soviet bombers. The Army Corps of Engineers supervised the excavation of Cheyenne Mountain and the construction of an operational center within the granite mountain. The Cheyenne Mountain facility became fully operational as the NORAD Combat Operations Center on April 20, 1966.

Over the years, the installation came to house elements of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Air Force Space Command and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). Under what became known as the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC), several centers supported the NORAD missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control and provided warning of ballistic missile or air attacks against North America. Cheyenne Mountain Space Force Station is owned and operated by Air Force Space Command.

The magic of Christmas is so real, even presidents have participated in NORAD Santa tracking!

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden speak with NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) from the South Auditorium of the White House in Washington, DC.
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden speak with NORAD. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak on the phone with children as they track Santa Claus on Christmas Eve 2018. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Wishing all of our readers a wonderful holiday season! And a reminder: you’re never too old to call NORAD.