Let me start this by saying I would give back my retirement and renounce my Air Force affiliation if they shot down Santa Claus. The man literally flies once a year, delivers tons of presents, and has never even gotten a speeding ticket. Shoot him down? Overkill.
On Christmas Eve this year, MSNBC columnist Hayes Brown penned an op-ed entitled NORAD’s Christmas Eve Santa Claus tracker needs to end. The graphics associated with the headline show a black-and-white image of Santa in his sleigh, with a red targeting reticle superimposed. Just who does Hayes Brown think he is?
Actually, he is a fairly prolific writer who has published numerous opinion pieces on MSNBC, some of which I agree with. Not this one, though. NORAD NOT track Santa? I would rather have a sophisticated network of satellites, UAVs, and radar sites giving me Santa’s whereabouts than rely on amateur sightings. The big man is an important figure on the world stage; I’d like to know where he is and how long before I have to go to bed. NORAD’s tracking ensures I am safely tucked away before Santa arrives and that his cookies are warm and his milk is cold. No one wants room-temperature milk.
The tradition of tracking Santa originated way back in the pre-historic time known as the 1950s. There are many versions of the Santa Tracker origin story, but they all boil down to the same premise: a child misdials a telephone number to talk to Santa. The phone rings at the Continental Air Defense Command (precursor to NORAD). Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup, short-straw holder for the night, answers and, baffled, assures the child he really IS Santa Claus. After telling the child where he, Santa, currently was, Shoup tells the kid Merry Christmas, then proceeds to answer dozens more calls from kids looking for Santa’s whereabouts. Shoup wisely grabbed an NCO (probably) and had him cover the phones. Thus was the tradition of NORAD Santa-tracking born.
Each year, thousands of kids call in to find information regarding their favorite fat guy in a red suit. By calling 1-877-HI-NORAD, kids can talk to one of Santa’s helpers. These “helpers” are a network of volunteers that willingly give up their time to support a fun project for the kids. No tax-payer money is earmarked for the program, and it only operates on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. Volunteers answer over 100,000 calls on Christmas from children all over the world. Personally, I believe this is an incredible thing for the adult volunteers as well as the kids.
Famous people have gotten on board with Santa-tracking. Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, Magic Johnson, and even “Bubbles” (Mike Smith) from the “Trailer Park Boys” have recorded audio and video for the Santa-tracker website. First-Ladies Michelle Obama, Melania Trump, and Jill Biden have answered calls from kids to the Santa line. What I’m trying to say is, Santa tracking started out as a mistake, turned into some fun, and grew into a well-known tradition. Why does Hayes Brown want to change that?
Brown says that the image of Santa, and all that entails, should not be associated with a military that kills people. Specifically, Santa should stay away from a military that kills from a distance, uses drones to strike rather than face-to-face killing, and does not hold accountable those who make mistakes. Hayes writes, “The messier business of war that goes on in the background doesn’t jibe with the Christmas spirit.” What about the messy business that happens in the forefront? Does THAT jibe with the Christmas spirit? Nothing about war jibes with the Christmas spirit.
Brown goes on to ask the question: Would the US government own up if it accidentally shot Santa’s sleigh down? What?!? No one is going to shoot Santa down. Some may want to, but does anyone really think the big man doesn’t have a suite of counter-measures far superior to anything currently fielded? A man who can produce millions of toys each year, load them all into one open-topped personnel carrier, then deliver them, unseen, to children all over the world has a hell of infrastructure supporting him. I’d wager a guess that the reindeer are some alien technology our tiny little brains can’t comprehend, and the sleigh could double as a deep-space hauler if need be. While Santa is bigger-than-life, he’s still human.
Maybe that’s why NORAD needs to track Santa: to show that military members are people, too. Just because we signed up to wear the uniform and fight if/when called on to do so does not mean WE do not jibe with the Christmas spirit. I don’t know if there are atheists in foxholes, but I do know there are Christmas presents in war zones. There are readings of A Christmas Carol and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Clergy and laymen alike read the Nativity story. Believers and non-believers share time together, open presents, swap stories of traditions, and generally get along around this time of year. Whether you believe in Santa or not, his image provides a touchstone familiar to nearly everyone on the planet. If that’s not one of those “bring us all closer together” touchstones, I don’t know what could be.
Mr. Hayes, I know Santa tracking started due to a mistake. I know someone in the US government recognized the PR boom Santa-tracking represented. I know the website offers information about NORAD right alongside Santa’s whereabouts. I also know I sat glued to the TV on Christmas Eve when local affiliates gave updates from NORAD on Santa’s projected path. I know my children watched those same updates, albeit in different parts of the world, with the same breathless anticipation. I know (at least I hope) my own grandkids will watch that screen to see where Santa is. And they’ll do it the same time millions of other kids are watching and waiting.
If tracking Santa Claus via updates from NORAD makes some kids curious about how they do the tracking, Merry Christmas! That kid may have gotten the seed that will grow into a successful career in radar technology. Maybe they’ll be motivated to join the Air Force so they, too, can be a part of this tradition. Perhaps they will remember the tradition fondly while pursuing a career in teaching, painting, or auto mechanics. I don’t know, and it’s really none of my business. Maybe all they will remember is a warm feeling of someone telling them Santa is on the way and everything is right in the world, if only for one night