NORAD Santa Tracker: 67-year-old tradition started with wrong number

11 News's Lindsey Grewe shares the history of a beloved Christmas tradition.
Published: Dec. 24, 2022 at 10:43 AM MST|Updated: Dec. 24, 2022 at 12:37 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - It was the Cold War. U.S. officials feared an attack by Russia. Their Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) had a special phone line set up in case of an imminent attack.

On Christmas Eve 1955, the phone rang.

U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup feared the worst. The call was coming in on a top-secret line, which could only mean one thing.

Except this time, it was a “red” concern of a different sort.

“Is this Santa Claus?” a tiny voice asked.

“Dad’s pretty annoyed,” Shoup’s daughter Terri Van Keuren recalled in 2009. “He barks into the phone, demanding to know who’s calling.

“The little voice is now crying, ‘Is this one of Santa’s elves, then?’”

How had the child gotten a highly-classified number? From a Sears ad that had run that very day with a big picture of Santa Claus, urging children to call him.

"Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct...just dial ME 2-6681. Kiddies be sure and dial the correct...
"Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct...just dial ME 2-6681. Kiddies be sure and dial the correct number. Call me on my personal phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night, or come in and visit me at Sears Toyland." -Santa Claus(KKTV)

The ad reminded children to dial the correct number -- but it was actually Sears that had the number wrong! The phone number advertised was off by a single digit, so instead of calling the North Pole, children were actually calling what we now know as NORAD.

Van Keuren said that the phones began ringing off the hook, and her dad decided to just roll with it. He grabbed a nearby airman and told him to answer the calls as Santa Claus.

It didn’t stop there: Shoup decided that it would be fun to give the children calling in information on Santa’s trip around the world. And just like that -- thanks to a wrong number and a kindly Air Force colonel -- a now 67-years-and-counting tradition was born.

CONAD became NORAD in 1958, and every year since, NORAD puts hundreds of volunteers behind phones to answer calls from children around the world. Questions fielded by volunteers include pressing matters such as: “How fast can Santa travel?” and “What time do I need to be in bed?”

If children want to talk to one of Santa’s elves, they can call 1-877-HI-NORAD. They can follow Santa’s progress around the world through social media or the official NORAD Santa Tracking website:

NORAD Tracks Santa official website

NORAD Tracks Santa Facebook

NORAD Tracks Santa Twitter

Or email NORAD Tracks Santa at