For the first time in its 54-year history, the annual NORAD tracking of Santa Claus around the world will do so without the good-humored officer who started the whole thing. Col. Harry Shoup was the guy who picked up the “hotline” deep in the underground command center at Colorado Springs on a December afternoon only to hear a child ask to speak to Santa. The local Sears store had set up a phone line to accept calls to Santa but the newspaper mistakenly published the secret number intended to alert a very nervous North American military of pending Armageddon. Shoup rolled with it and began a tradition that has lightened the load of heavily burdened NORAD staff and given a human perspective to the grim purpose of NORAD itself. Shoup died in March of this year but his decision to keep the light of the season burning in the shadow of some pretty intense geopolitical gamesmanship has evolved into a tradition that’s keeping up with the times.
The original tracking of Santa was done on the radio with NORAD staff calling the position reports. That turned into squiggly lines on a television screen and today we can follow the jolly old elf on Google Earth.