CBC Digital Archives

2001: Norad tracks Santa Claus

One of the most terrifying visions of the Cold War was the spectre of Soviet bombers and nuclear missiles crossing the Arctic toward North America. To protect the continent, Canada and the United States created Norad, the North American Aerospace Defense Command: a vast array of electronic eyes forever sweeping over the continent. But the world changed since the 1950s, and Norad shifted focus to monitor drug trafficking and terrorism. Yet critics call the organization an expensive monument to the Cold War, and a first step on the slippery slope to weapons in space.

media clip
Santa Claus may be coming to town -- but when? And, a worried child asks CBC Television, how can we be sure he won't hit an airplane? Kids, relax! Every December 24th, Norad reports detecting nine unknown objects flying over the North Pole, heading south at high speed. In this clip Canadian Forces Maj. Doug Martin confirms that Norad satellites will help children track St. Nick online, and a fighter escort will ensure his safe passage. 
• According to Canadian Forces Maj. Jamie Robertson, Norad's deputy director of public affairs, the tradition of tracking Santa began by accident in 1955. That Christmas, a newspaper ran an ad for Sears Roebuck giving out a "Santa Hotline" phone number for children to call with their wish lists. But the number was misprinted, and kids found themselves on the secret operations hotline for Continental Air Defense Command, Norad's predecessor.

• Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, finding himself fielding questions from children asking to speak with Santa, responded that his officers could see Santa on their radar screens leaving the North Pole. The media got wind of the story, and from that point on children looked up the Defence Command each Christmas, calling to ask about Santa's progress. Norad has continued the tradition, and in 2004 was celebrating "Norad's 50th Season Tracking Santa."

• In 1997 Norad took its Santa tracking online, using the internet to record St. Nick's progress and reporting one million hits. In 2004 its site boasted "declassified photos" of Santa throughout the years, as well as video and audio greetings from "Honorary Santa Trackers" including Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, newsman Peter Jennings, baseball great Jose Canseco and CBC Television personality George Strombolopolous.

• A spokesman for the Pentagon says the Norad Santa tracking site is provided for free by organizations working with Norad.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: Dec. 24, 2001
Guest(s): Doug Martin
Host: Helen Mann
Reporter: Jo Lynn Sheane
Duration: 2:52

Last updated: March 17, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Marc Garneau: Canadian Space Pioneer

His bravery is inspiring, his grace is charming and his credentials are out of this world. In ...

1960: Aluminum Christmas trees come to Canada

Fireproof and tidy, aluminum Christmas trees are a flashy alternative for non-traditionalists.

1985: Electric eels light up Christmas tree

The electric eels at the Vancouver Aquarium light up a tree for the holiday season.

1944: Christmas dinner at the war front

An army cook discusses plans for Christmas dinner at the front in Holland.

1990: UFO phenomenon over Montreal

A group sighting of a UFO sparks a major investigation.