December 25, 2012

NORAD says record number of calls to track Santa

Among the questions from children this year: "Is Santa real?" and "Does Santa leave presents for dogs?"

The Associated Press

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Most of the thousands of children who call the annual Santa-tracking operation at a Colorado Air Force Base on Christmas Eve ask the usual questions: "Where's Santa, and when will he get here?"

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U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard Scobie, right, flanked by his son Andrew, and wife Janis, all taking phone calls from children asking where Santa is and when he will deliver presents to their house, during the annual NORAD Tracks Santa Operation, at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Monday Dec. 24, 2012. Over a thousand volunteers at NORAD handle more than 100,000 thousand phone calls from children around the world every Christmas Eve, with NORAD continually projecting Santa's supposed progress delivering presents. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

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Volunteers take phone calls from children asking where Santa is and when he will deliver presents to their house, during the annual NORAD Tracks Santa Operation, at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Monday Dec. 24, 2012. Over a thousand volunteers at NORAD handle more than 100,000 thousand phone calls from children around the world every Christmas Eve, with NORAD continually projecting Santa's supposed progress delivering presents. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

So volunteer Sara Berghoff was caught off-guard Monday when a child called to see if Santa could be especially kind this year to the families affected by the Connecticut school shooting.

"I'm from Newtown, Connecticut, where the shooting was," she remembers the child asking. "Is it possible that Santa can bring extra presents so I can deliver them to the families that lost kids?"

Sara, just 13 herself, was surprised but gathered her thoughts quickly. "If I can get ahold of him, I'll try to get the message to him," she told the child.

Sara was one of hundreds of volunteers at NORAD Tracks Santa who answered thousands of calls, program spokeswoman Marisa Novobilski said. Spokeswoman 1st Lt. Stacey Fenton said that as of midnight Tuesday, trackers answered more than 111,000 calls, breaking last year's record of 107,000.

First lady Michelle Obama, who is spending the holidays with her family in Hawaii, also joined in answering calls as she has in recent years. She spent about 30 minutes talking with children from across the country, telling some who asked that her favorite toys growing up were Barbie dolls and an Easy Bake oven.

She also received an invitation to visit an 11-year-old boy in Fort Worth, Texas, and a request to put her husband on the phone. "He's not here right now. But you know what, I will tell him you asked about him. OK?" she replied.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint U.S.-Canada command responsible for protecting the skies over both nations, tracks Santa from its home at Peterson Air Force Base.

NORAD and its predecessor have been fielding Christmas Eve phone calls from children — and a few adults — since 1955. That's when a newspaper ad listed the wrong phone number for kids to call Santa. Callers ended up getting the Continental Air Defense Command, which later became NORAD. CONAD commanders played along, and the ritual has been repeated every year since.

After 57 years, NORAD can predict what most kids will ask. Its 11-page playbook for volunteers includes a list of nearly 20 questions and answers, including how old is Santa (at least 16 centuries) and has Santa ever crashed into anything (no).

But kids still manage to ask the unexpected, including, "Does Santa leave presents for dogs?"

A sampling of anecdotes from the program this year:

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THE REAL DEAL: A young boy called to ask if Santa was real.

Air Force Maj. Jamie Humphries, who took the call, said, "I'm 37 years old, and I believe in Santa, and if you believe in him as well, then he must be real."

The boy turned from the phone and yelled to others in the room, "I told you guys he was real!"

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DON'T WORRY, HE'LL FIND YOU: Glenn Barr took a call from a 10-year-old who wasn't sure if he would be sleeping at his mom's house or his dad's and was worried about whether Santa would find him.

"I told him Santa would know where he was and not to worry," Barr said.

Another child asked if he was on the nice list or the naughty list.

(Continued on page 2)

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