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How the team behind NORAD’s Santa Tracker prepares for St. Nick’s Christmas Eve sleigh ride

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Santa Claus is coming to town — under the watchful eye of NORAD. (Illustrator: Jennifer Heuer)

Santa Claus is coming to town — under the watchful eye of NORAD. (Illustrator: Jennifer Heuer)

This article was originally published on Dec. 23, 2021.

Every year children around the world head to sleep on Christmas Eve in anticipation of Santa’s arrival to deliver gifts under their trees. But as Mr. Claus takes flight in his sleigh, a team at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) work all hours of the night to make sure that he is protected and on track.

Lieutenant Colonel Drew Frey of the U.S. Air Force is one of those people who works tirelessly to keep eyes on Santa and his reindeer, while also taking calls from kids wondering when they might expect the man in the red suit. According to Frey, it’s a job that NORAD has been dedicated to since 1955.

“A child saw a phone number in the Sears catalog that was misprinted that called the continental air defense command,” he explains to Yahoo Life. “Luckily they had a commander on shift who recognized that this child wants to speak to Santa and took it as such and answered the child’s questions.”

Since then, the command center has implemented an entire workforce of 500 additional people on Christmas Eve to answer calls from children tracking Santa. Frey says that workers field a wide variety of inquiries from young people across the country — many having to do with what time they should head to bed before Santa visits.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that Santa Claus visits children between 9 and 12 o’clock at night, but you have to be asleep before he arrives,” he says.

While NORAD has an entire system in place to keep track of Santa’s travels and to ensure his safety — using Rudolph’s nose as a signal for satellites — Frey says that the route Mr. Claus takes is ultimately up to the man in red himself and his elves.

“We’ve tried to crack the top secret code to figure out Santa’s flight path, but it varies differently every year, depending on where all those good little girls and boys are,” Frey says.

Once Christmas Day comes around, the work isn’t over for the team at NORAD who continues to provide defense over all of North America. Santa, however, returns home for some vacation time.

“We wish him farewell as goes back to the North Pole for a nice 364-day rest as the elves and Mrs. Claus get ready for next year,” Frey says.

–Video produced by Olivia Schneider

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