Eager children all over the world wait for Santa's sleigh to streak across the sky, hoping for a peek to see what he is bringing them. Parents warn that Santa won't stop by if they are still awake. Even the most hyperactive child will willingly hurry off to bed when she thinks Santa's reindeer are loitering on the roof.
Santa's elves work diligently all year long to make lots of presents for Santa to deliver to the children on his lengthy list. It's a well-known fact that Santa's sleigh -- led by nine powerful reindeer -- travels at the speed of light in order to meet his appointed rounds. Crossing the International Date Line, Santa hits 24 time zones, which makes his work schedule a bit confusing, to say the least.
In 1955 a retail outlet decided to offer local children a chance to speak to "Santa" as he made his way around the world on Christmas Eve; unfortunately, the newspaper ad they placed to publicize this special treat had a typo, and scores of eager children contacted a Colorado Air Force base colonel whose own jolly humor inspired him to let every caller in on Santa's location all evening. Earning the nickname of "Santa Colonel," Col. Harry Shoup began a yearly tradition that was formally organized in 1958 when the North American Aerospace Defense Command was first created; every year since then, using the latest in military tracking systems, Santa's whereabouts during his Yuletide ride have been reported to hundreds and thousands of excited children.
Civilian and military volunteers man NORAD telephones at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado every Christmas Eve to make sure that every curious phone call is answered. It's reported that no American or Canadian taxpayer funds are used for the operation. In 1997, Santa-tracking came to the World Wide Web. The site (http://www.noradsanta.org) is active from Dec. 1 through Dec. 25, and on Christmas Eve features CGI footage from "camera feeds" timed to match different time zones across the world, along with radar screens and other entertaining data. NORAD still answers the telephones and emails every Christmas Eve. In recent years social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have joined NORAD's efforts to help keep everyone aware of where the Jolly Elf and his reindeer are delivering presents.
"Each year, the NORAD Tracks Santa website receives nearly nine million unique visitors from more than 200 countries and territories around the world. Volunteers receive more than 12,000 emails and more than 70,000 calls to the NORAD Tracks Santa hotline from children around the globe," according to a statement issued by North American Aerospace Defense Command.
For children who visit Santa at shopping malls, write letters to him and leave milk and cookies out for his visit, the idea of tracking his journey is simply an extension of the fantasy. (To be honest, clicking around the website is fun for adults, too.)
In addition to the official NORAD Tracks Santa website, many police departments throughout the nation will often add Christmas Eve reports of speeding sleighs and jolly men in red suits on rooftops to their radio transmissions for the benefit of anyone listening to an emergency scanner. Television news reporters sometimes add periodic updates about Santa's location. There are also phone apps that parents can download on their phones to show their children how "real" the evening is.
Thanks to modern technology, it is easier to enable children to enjoy fantasies -- something psychologists agree is healthy. While not all children are raised believing in Santa, the tooth fairy or the Easter Bunny, these icons help to instill values and encourage kids to use their imaginations and dare to dream. Parents are the best judges to decide when a child should be told the difference between imagination and truth. At that point, parents can replace myths with the true history behind the traditions, such as the real St. Nicholas and his generosity. Belief in the magic of Christmas spirit can also help a child to believe that they can help others, and encourages them to begin their own tradition of caring for the needy and less fortunate.