DENVER — Here's some good news for children and families: Even a pandemic won't stop NORAD from tracking Santa as the jolly old elf traverses the globe on Christmas Eve.
The North America Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said on Monday that plans are underway for this year's Santa Tracker; however, COVID-19 is forcing some changes to the annual tradition that's been going on since 1955.
This year, only a small number of volunteers will be in the call center to answer the calls from toll-free number, 877-Hi-NORAD (877-446-6723) on Dec. 24.
Callers who can't get through will receive a recorded update on Santa's current location, NORAD says.
In previous years, hundred of volunteers have handled the phones, as children around the world have called in to ask about Santa's whereabouts.
"While NORAD understands the call center is an important tradition for many families around the world, we reduce the health risks posed by attempting to conduct a large indoor, in-person call center during the pandemic," NORAD says on its Santa Tracker Facebook page.
Santa enthusiasts can still watch the tracker on the NORAD Tracks Santa website, which will go live on Dec. 1, and on social media pages and a new mobile app.
The Santa Tracker program started in 1955, when a local Sears store in Colorado Springs printed a newspaper ad that invited kids to call a certain phone number to talk to Santa. The number was misprinted, and the calls ended up going to the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor.
The colonel on duty that night realized the mistake. He ordered his officers and his troops to start tracking Santa using our systems and telling the kids where Santa was throughout the night.
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