Santa is to get a US military escort on his big night this year. But (don’t tell the kids) it’s not entirely real.
There’s no point getting out your telescope as the escort in question will only be visible on a streaming video operated by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
NORAD (and its predecessor CONAD) has run the tracker in various forms since 1955. The story goes that a department store published a number for a “phone Santa” line but a misprint meant calls went through to a local military base where a quick-thinking officer told staff to give callers updates on Santa’s whereabouts.
The service has continued with phone and e-mail updates and, since 1997, through a website (currently noradsanta.org) which last years attracted more then 22 million visitors. On Christmas Eve, the site shows Santa’s journey across the timezones, with footage of him flying over various landmarks.
A preview video for this year’s will include Santa accompanied by two fighter jets, something a NORAD spokesman describes as “part of our effort to give the program more of an operational feel… It’s still cutesy since it’s for kids, but we don’t want people to lose sight of our true mission.”
NORAD has also put together a lighthearted promotion video that suggests the military has completed work to ensure Santa will not face a threat from either Jack Frost nor the Abominable Snowman, and that the world’s rooftops have been checked to make sure they are safe for landing.
The move has attracted criticism from people who believe a military involvement is inappropriate or irrelevant for a service aimed largely at children. However it appears that NORAD believes that as it organizes the service, it is reasonable to use it as somewhat of a promotional tool.
Whether the fighter jets will actually appear on the “live” video shown on Christmas Eve remains to be seen.