Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holy Shit, NORAD!

Sears ad that got NORAD to track Santa

I've had this one in mind all year, specifically for today. Then NPR went ahead and did a story on it last week. Thanks, NPR. Thanks a lot.

For the uncultured rabble who don't follow NPR, I guess I can still give it a go. Around this time of the year in 1955, a local branch of Sears in Colorado Springs put an ad in the papers. The ad promised kids that they could get a hold of Santa Claus himself by calling a certain phone number. There was a bit of a typo, and when little Timmy picked up the phone on Christmas Eve to talk to Santa, a gruff military voice was on the other line. That gruff military voice belonged to a confused staffer of CONAD, which would be reorganized a few years later into NORAD. Nobody without security clearance was supposed to have that number.

You know NORAD, right? It's the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Aside from being terrible with acronyms, it serves the purpose of keeping unwanted visitors out of North American airspace. Unwanted visitors like Air Force planes that belong to nations who dislike America and Canada. Unwanted visitors like nuclear weapons.
Nuclear explosion
Which is pretty high on my list of things I don't want in my airspace.
It's obviously pretty nice to have them around. You would expect them to be a no-nonsense outfit. Strictly business, right? Well, for the most part, they are. The officer in charge that night, Colonel Harry Shoup, had a soft spot for good little American boys and girls. Since the cat was pretty much out of the bag where the phone number was concerned, he issued a standing order: When a staffer answers the phone to hear a child asking about Santa Claus, they are to perform their regular duty and track the flying object in U.S. airspace. That is to say, our nation's first line of air defenses was ordered to track Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and share his location with the children.
NORAD Tracking Santa
Military Decorum.

The feeling in general about this incident within the armed forces was that it was adorable. Adorable, and a perfect opportunity for good publicity. What better way to connect with the people they protect than to indulge in their most innocent fantasies? So it became a Thing with a capital T. Every year since 1955, CONAD -- and then NORAD -- has tracked Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and shared his location with inquiring children. It's all on a volunteer basis now, and there's a hotline and website and everything.

Because who says the people who watch the skies for nuclear missiles can't also get into the Christmas spirit?
NORAD Tracks Santa logo
Even if they could do better with the logo...
Holy shit.

Also, happy holidays.

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