Dueling trackers keeping tabs on Santa

Updated 11:35 p.m. Eastern

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. Volunteers at a U.S. Air Force base monitoring Santa Claus' progress around the world were on track to answer a record number of calls Monday from children wanting to know everything from Saint Nick's age to how reindeer fly.

Oh, and when are the presents coming?

Phones were ringing nonstop at Peterson Air Force Base, headquarters of the North American Aerospace Command's annual Santa-tracking operation.

First Lady Michelle Obama joined in from Hawaii, where she answered phone calls for about 30 minutes.

First Lady Michelle Obama reacts while talking on the phone to children across the country as part of the annual NORAD Tracks Santa program. Mrs. Obama answered the phone calls from Kailua, Hawaii, Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2012.
First Lady Michelle Obama reacts while talking on the phone to children across the country as part of the annual NORAD Tracks Santa program. Mrs. Obama answered the phone calls from Kailua, Hawaii, Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2012.
The White House/Pete Souza

NORAD Tracks Santa was on pace to exceed last year's record of 107,000 calls, program spokeswoman Marisa Novobilski said. They had already received 88,000 calls by Monday evening.

But NORAD has some fresh competition: Google has unveiled a new Santa tracker this year. As CNET reports, Google Maps engineers developed a new route algorithm that will let users track Saint Nick's journey on a special Santa Tracker page.

"Google has been tracking Santa via Google Earth since 2004," CNET's Don Reisinger notes. "This is the first time the company has launched a broader Santa Tracker tool that competes with NORAD's perennial favorite."

Volunteers started taking calls at 4 a.m. Mountain time on Monday and will keep updating until 3 a.m. on Christmas morning.

NORAD Tracks Santa began in 1955 when a newspaper ad listed the wrong phone number for kids to call Santa. Callers ended up getting the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor, and a tradition was born.

Officers played along. Since then, NORAD Tracks Santa has gone global, posting updates for nearly 1.2 million Facebook fans and 104,000 Twitter followers.

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

"I'm from Newtown, Connecticut, where the shooting was," she remembered 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, gathered her thoughts quickly. "If I can get ahold of him, I'll try to get the message to him," she told the child.

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?"

Following is a sampling of calls received at the base:

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GIFTS IN HEAVEN: One little boy from Missouri phoned in to ask what time Santa delivered toys to heaven, said volunteer Jennifer Eckels, who took the call. The boy's mother got on the line to explain that his sister had died this year.

"I think Santa headed there first," Eckels told him.

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IS HE THERE YET?: James Solano took a call from a young girl and her father in Bangkok, asking when Santa would arrive. Solano checked the map and said it wouldn't be long.

"The dad was saying, `We've got to get to bed soon,"' said Solano, an Army colonel.

"It was kind of neat," he said. "They were very thrilled."

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SANTA KNOWS: 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.

"That's a closely guarded secret, and only Santa knows," Barr replied.

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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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