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Santa Claus is coming to town
Popular Santa tracking website sends updates on where he is throughout his trip

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Friday, December 23, 2011

When Santa Claus boards his sleigh and makes his epic journey around the world in one night on Christmas Eve, children of all ages can keep up to date on where he is at all times thanks to the power of technology - with a little help from the military.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is tracking the jolly old elf on his yearly voyage, starting when he departs the North Pole at about 4 a.m. MT, said a "NORAD Tracks Santa" spokesperson.

"Santa does his own thing, all we do is follow him and track him using all of our devices that we have here," said Royal Canadian Navy Lieut. Al Blondin, media operations public affairs officer for NORAD. "We are the best equipped to track Santa."

The tracking of Santa's sleigh is particularly efficient because one of the reindeer, Rudolph, has a very bright nose and its infrared signature is easily captured by satellite, Blondin said.

"We can basically identify where he is at any given time," he said. "As he slows down to go into a particular city, then we'll have one of our fighters intercept him and then they will take pictures."

The Yellowknife airport is also on Santa watch, said airport manager Steve Loutitt.

"We'll make sure that it's open and he's clear for landing," said Loutitt, adding the airport gives Santa special permission to bring in his parcels without going through security. "We do our part to make sure Santa can get in and out of Yellowknife."

NORAD officials could not say for sure where Yellowknife will fall on Santa's route this year because they don't know exactly where he'll be until he shows up on their radar.

"The only information that we know for sure is that he doesn't miss any home," said Blondin. "He will go to any place where there are people but he will not show up until the children are asleep."

Generally, though, the Northwest Territories are visited near the end of Santa's trip. When the sleigh has left the North Pole in the past, it heads southwest and makes its first stop in northern Russia. Then he continues staying ahead of the sun.

"He has more than 24 hours because, as he moves, the sun is following him," said Blondin.

However, it's not just these extra hours that help Santa get to every city, town and village that celebrates Christmas in the whole world in one night.

"There's something about Santa, where he operates on a timeline that is different than ours. And that's magic," said Blondin. "When he is in full speed transit, there's no way our fighters can keep up. (He travels at) the speed of starlight I'm told."

The NORAD Tracks Santa website posts updates of where Mr. Kringle is at all times as he makes his way around the world. Updates that include images and video footage gathered during this mission are sent out through e-mail, YouTube, Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook throughout the day.

However, this program has been around since long before social media. In 1955, a commander on shift at NORAD's predecessor, the Continental Air Defence Command (CONAD) received a phone call from a child who was asking about Santa.

A retailer had put an ad in the local newspaper stating children could call in for requests for Santa, but had mistakenly used CONAD's phone number.

Instead of telling the child that they had the wrong number, the commander told the child they were, in fact, tracking Santa. When he found out about the erroneous advertisement, the commander informed all of his workers on shift that night that they should play along.

Every year since, the Santa tracking program has lived on. When NORAD took over from CONAD in 1958, it enthusiastically took over job. In 2010, the NORAD Tracks Santa website had over 15 million unique visitors, and the operation has expanded over the years and now tracks the Christmas convoy to 28 different cities around the world.

This is Blondin's first year on the Santa-tracking beat, but he is looking forward to it and is so far loving his mission.

"I see myself as an old bearded guy tracking another old bearded guy," he said.

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