Of all the magical elements of modern Christmas celebrations, Santa Claus’s mammoth journey to deliver presents to the world’s children in a single night is perhaps top of the list.
In a search for answers, inquisitive children have been making calls to the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) to establish the exact whereabouts of St Nicholas and his reindeer-led sleigh for close to 70 years.
The tradition began in 1955, when a child mistakenly rang a Colorado military command asking to speak to Father Christmas – after a local newspaper ran an advert by a department store containing a misprinted phone number.
Air Force Commander Harry Shoup, who was manning the phones that Christmas Eve, quickly realised the mistake and assured the child that he was in fact Santa Claus.
As more calls came in that night, Commander Shoup assigned a duty officer to continue answering the phone, birthing a tradition that passed over to Norad when it was formed in 1958.
Every year since, the agency – which defends and monitors the skies over North America – has fielded children’s questions about the red-and-white-clad chimney intruder and his unrivalled delivery schedule.
This year, the Alaska-based agency plans to have 1,500 volunteers working on Christmas Eve, who typically answer around 130,000 calls from children around the world.
Families are also able to watch Santa’s journey in real-time, using Norad’s online tracker, which charts his progress from the North Pole on a 3D map. The tracker will begin to provide updates at 9am in the UK as he makes preparations for his flight.
Children can then begin to phone in from 11am to enquire about Santa’s whereabouts by calling 1-877-446-6723 for free, where they will either speak with a live phone operator or hear a recorded update.
Lieutenant General David Nahom, a Norad official based in Alaska, told the Associated Press that the pandemic had not affected Santa’s busy delivery schedule.
The freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall that have disrupted holiday travel in the US and are forecast in the UK over Christmas should also pose no problems for a man who lives at the North Pole, said Lt Gen Nahom, adding: “I think Santa will be right at home with the Arctic weather.”
Norad’s website states that its fighter jets have “intercepted Santa many, many times” over the past 65 years, adding: “When the jets intercept Santa, they tip their wings to say, ‘Hello Santa. Norad is tracking you again this year’. Santa always waves.”
According to Norad, the “only logical conclusion” as to how Santa is able to traverse the globe in such a way is that he “somehow functions within his own time-space continuum”.
“Norad intelligence reports indicate that Santa does not experience time the way we do. His trip seems to take 24 hours to us, but to Santa it might last days, weeks or even months,” the agency states.
Google has also been running a Santa tracker for nearly 20 years, and expects Father Christmas to make his first stop in far eastern Russia at 7pm in the UK.