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Friday, December 23, 2005

NORAD Tracks Santa For 50 Years


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Christmas eve is here. That holy night when we remember the birthday of Jesus, through gift giving
by the world's second greatest gift giver, a man of many names.

As the world turns children are asleep in Russia and parts at the Eastern most side of the International Date Line and Santa is already at work while in time zones to the west, children go to sleep every hour preparing for the arrival of St. Nicholas, Sinter Claus, Old St. Nick, whatever you want to call him. But for most Americans, for the many of those who wait for his annual visit he is known simply as:

Santa Claus

As children here learn at an early age, Santa, that example of love, generosity, giving and kindness that is an annual reminder that we are not the center of the universe, (or at least Santa should remind us, sometimes we forget despite the Red Suit and the bells and the flying reindeer) starts out from the North Pole on Christmas Eve with an amazing journey. A mission to bring presents to good children all over the world.

By the time evening falls in North America, the time change will allow Santa a brief pit stop at his workshop at the North Pole, where he can fill up on last minute presents, a little hot cocoa, feed for his reindeer, and then start his approach to visit North and South America.

In the old days, Santa's travels were a complete mystery. Even still, on a house by house basis, tracking the jolly old elf is neigh on impossible. But since 1955, as a result of a telephone number mistake in a Sears call Santa hotline promotion, the NORAD bi-national U.S.-Canadian aerospace defence and warning command, which has sophisticated radar, satellite, jet and television-web monitoring of the skies approaching North America, has been tracking the travels of Santa every Christmas eve to the delight of families in North America.

I can well remember local weather stations picking up their news feeds in the 1960's as Santa approached the continent from Iceland and Greenland. But then there was a news blackout in those simple, pre-cable, pre-internet days of black and white, get up out of your chair and turn the knobs television. That was all we could get about Santa without a call. Not so today.

Today with the help of the World Wide Web, NORAD has a website with a special Santa tracker at http://www.noradsanta.org/en/default.php where you can follow Santa's progress on Christmas Eve as he makes his way here.

The website makes the most of today's technology, with radar, satellite, jet aircraft and webcam images of Santa's trip coming in to us over the web in real time.

The web also has, with the help of Santa's nutritionist, a cookie counter, so that we can see how many cookies Santa has eaten during the course of his travels. Don't be too shocked. It takes a lot of energy to go up and down all those chimneys, and get in and out of houses, er, other ways. I'm betting that his reindeer, Dasher especially, gets a few cookies on the side, but that's just hearsay. Could be just Blitzen starting trouble again.

They also post regular movie updates in case you don't have time to follow the map, which shows just which major cities Santa has visited. Those who sleep through the big event can access these movies of the various stages of Santa's trip later and the site links to free media player downloads so that you can follow along. (Parents - if you do not have the current version of Real Player, Quicktime, or Windows Media player for PC or Mac, I recomment downloading this IN ADVANCE of the big event.)

You can also learn a lot about Santa, download some coloring book pages and find some other things I have not mentioned here.

I hope you enjoy this. It is a fun way to explore the world and geography. Perhaps also an activity for parents who do not celebrate Christmas but their Children will not let go of their fascination with it. This site at least gives them some experience with global maps, military history, technology and the like.



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