According to the legend at the Wikipedia entry and this CBC broadcast, NORAD took over as the official Santa Claus tracker when a newspaper accidentally confused a store’s “Santa hotline” with a secret phone line at the height of the Cold War. Great timing.
All I can verify first-hand is that I’ve been checking NORAD’s Santa tracker since I first went online in 1996, and it never ceases to amaze me. (Granted, it’s slightly disappointing to know that the people doing all these charming videos aren’t in the nuclear blast-proof mountain in Colorado anymore, but it’s still fascinating stuff.)
I’m clearly not the only one watching. This year, the videos are going up on YouTube, and you can see the hundreds of thousands of page views tonight alone.
It’s one of the most incongruous productions imaginable. It’s hard to imagine a job grimmer than watching the sky for impending Armageddon, and yet these folks have the sense of humor to animate Santa’s sleigh doing flips past world landmarks.
Merry Christmas to all, and may Santa pass through your airspace safely.