NORAD Tracking Santa: A Cold War History

The main battle staff position in the Combat Operations Center at North American Air Defense Command headquarters, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Inset: The Sears ad that purportedly ran in 1955, ultimately sparking NORAD’s Santa tracker. Bettman/Contributor/Getty Images. Inset: NORAD Public Affairs, Bob Jones

The story that circulates about how NORAD started tracking Santa is pretty heart-warming, but doesn’t completely hold up. So there’s some myth-busting here, and maybe the tiniest bit of bah-humbug.

Tracy's Research:

  • Government of Canada. “NORAD: Backgrounder / September 11, 2014 / Project number: BG 13.056.” National Defense and the Canadian Armed Forces.
  • North American Aerospace Defense Command. “NORAD Agreement.”
  • “Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America on the North American Aerospace Defense Command.”
  • Historica Canada. “NORAD.”
  • North American Aerospace Defense Command. “About NORAD.”
  • NORAD. “A Brief History of NORAD.”
  • North American Aerospace Defense Command. “NORAD tracks Santa.”
  • Van Keuren, Terri et al. “Terri Van Keuren, Rick Shoup and Pamela Farrell” StoryCorps.
  • Public Domain Review. “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.”
  • Campbell, W. Joseph. “The grudging emergence of American journalism's classic editorial: New details about “Is There A Santa Claus?” American Journalism, 22, (2) Spring 2005.”
  • Terdiman, Daniel. “Behind the scenes: NORAD's Santa tracker.” CNet. 12/24/2010.
  • NPR Staff. “NORAD's Santa Tracker Began With A Typo And A Good Sport.” Morning Edition.
  • Novak, Matt. “How the US Military Turned Santa Claus Into a Cold War Icon.” Gizmodo. 12/23/2014.
  • Conerad. “NORAD Tracks Santa.”
  • Appelbaum, Yoni. “Yes, Virginia, There Is a NORAD.” The Atlantic. 12/24/2015.
  • Public Relations Society of America. “Norad and Santa: A Winning Combination.”
  • Pittsburgh Press. “USAF Sound Expert Honored.” Pittsburgh Press. 8/2/1956.
  • Bassett, Laura. “6 Curious Facts about NORAD’s Santa-Tracking Program.” Avaya. December 17, 2015.
  • Aupperlee, Aaron. “NORAD preps for another year tracking Santa.” The Morning Call. 11/29/2017.
  • NORAD. “NORAD is Ready to Track Santa's Flight.” 11/30/2017.
  • NORAD Public Affairs. “Santa Tracking Test Deemed Success.”
  • Women’s Wear Daily. “Restaurants And Night Clubs: Theatres: Slip Of A Child's Finger Puts Santa On Defense Radarscope.” New York Vol. 103, Iss. 96, (Nov 15, 1961): 63.
  • New York Times. “Hidden Spending Laid to Pentagon.” Aug 22, 1971; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Boston Globe.
  • New York Herald Tribune. “State Department Cables Welcome to Santa.” 12/25/1948.
  • “More May Follow Santa’s Route, Youngster Learns.” Pasadena Independent. 12/1/1955. Via
  • Dendy, John B, IV. “Santa” Airman; Dec 2000; 44, 12; Advanced Technologies & Aerospace Database.
  • Sullivan, Danny. “How Google Became A Santa Tracker Tradition To Rival NORAD.” MarketingLand. 12/22/2014.

Topics in this Podcast: Christmas, 20th century, military history, U.S. history, Canadian history, cold war