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How NORAD Began Tracking Santa

Remember when you were growing up, on Christmas Eve you could hear radio reports of how U.S. military radar picked up a mysterious object flying away from the North Pole? Those reports, called NORAD Tracks Santa, began in 1955, when a Sears store in Colorado Springs invited kids to call Santa Claus, and a typo in the phone number led children to a high-security line at the Continental Air Defense Command. Colonel Harry Shoup was the man who answered the hotline. StoryCorps recently talked to Shoup’s three children about how that first phone call.

His children remember Shoup as straight-laced and disciplined, and he was annoyed and upset by the call and thought it was a joke — but then, Terri says, the little voice started crying.

"And Dad realized that it wasn't a joke," her sister says. "So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho'd and asked if he had been a good boy and, 'May I talk to your mother?' And the mother got on and said, 'You haven't seen the paper yet? There's a phone number to call Santa. It's in the Sears ad.' Dad looked it up, and there it was, his red phone number. And they had children calling one after another, so he put a couple of airmen on the phones to act like Santa Claus."

The phone calls were only the beginning. Read (or listen) to the story of what Shoup did on Christmas Eve that same year that started the tradition and led him to be called “Santa Colonel” for the rest of his life, at NPR. -Thanks, Daniel Kim!

(Images credit: NORAD)

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