Let your students learn how NORAD uses radar, satellites, and jet fighters in a special mission of Santa Claus tracking. They’ll love to follow along! Free writing prompts included.

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My children had their own version of Santa Claus tracking. We’d read our annual Christmas story, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, and my youngest would promise to never lose the spirit. He would check his pockets to make sure there were no holes in them. Then he would fall asleep on the couch next to the tree waiting for Santa. These are such tender memories for me.

A screen with Santa Claus in his sleigh and the reindeer in the sky with the title Santa Claus Tracking with a free writing activity.
Image courtesy of NORADSanta.org The original blog post published November 2021. Updated post November 2023.

Tracking Santa has been a tradition for centuries. Children waiting by fireplaces, watching the night skies, and peeking out their windows until their noses are as red as Rudolf’s. 

But today we have sophisticated technology to follow his flight path. We’re tracking you, Santa, with NORAD!

What is NORAD and What Does it Have to Do With Santa?

NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command. It’s mission is to monitor all traffic in the skies and waterways of North America and Canada, protecting the continent from any dangers. However, every December 24th, it has a special mission: Santa Claus Tracking.

In order to complete this special mission, NORAD has over 1,000 volunteers who watch the screens, answer phone calls and emails, and of course, drink hot chocolate.

This video from NORAD explains with the help of younger volunteers.


How did NORAD Santa Tracking Begin?

Let’s hop into the way back time machine. In 1955, a certain newspaper ran a certain advertisement for children to call the North Pole and speak to Santa. Unfortunately, the ad had a misprint and the telephone number wasn’t for Santa and his elves.

It was the telephone number for CONAD, the Continental Air Defense Command. 

When the phone rang on December 24th, 1955, the commander on duty was Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup. He answered the child’s phone call and assured the child, “Yes, Santa’s on his way.” With sleigh bells ringing.

Then another child called.

And another.

Colonel Shoup and his troops answered the phone calls from children asking, “Where’s Santa?” for the entire Christmas Eve.

Christmas lights, a sign that says Where's Santa, and a cup of hot chocolate.

The Magical Christmas Mistake

It quickly became apparent that perhaps Santa had used some of his magic. Perhaps Santa made sure the typesetter put the phone number to CONAD in the advertisement because his elves would be very busy packing up the gifts in his sleigh. 

The elves were so busy, they wouldn’t have time to answer the phone.

So Santa decided the soldiers of the Continental Air Defense Command could be his elves for a night.

The Santa Tracker was born.

NORAD Continues to Track Santa

After the first Christmas Eve in 1955, CONAD, which later became NORAD, decided to help out each year. Using radar they track Santa’s sleigh pulled by reindeer at the speed of “Faster than Starlight”. They use satellites that can detect Santa and his nine reindeer, and especially Rudolf’s red nose.

Jet fighter pilots have encountered Santa in the night before Christmas skies many times. They say Santa is always happy to see them. The pilots tip their wings to wave at Santa and he waves back.

How much more time do we have until Santa arrives?

Writing About Santa Claus Tracking

Writing about Santa tracking is way too much fun not to share with your students. I’ve created three magical writing prompts for you to give to your students. You can download them for free from the Member Vault.

Three pages of writing prompts for Santa with hand drawn images of hot cocoa, a snow globe and a Christmas cupcake.

Each of the writing prompts gives a different scenario, and asks the student, “What would you do?”

Along with the writing prompts, I’ve included a Christmas card they can use to write a thank you note to Santa and leave with their cookies, carrots, and milk.  

Two images of thank you cards for Santa.

The holidays are so much fun. The students are topped up on excitement. I say, don’t try to fight it or control it. Just lean into it. Use the power of their excitement to guide them along on a fun writing adventure about Santa Claus tracking.

You can learn more at the NORAD Santa Tracking website. They have games, videos, and more. Just mouse over the Christmas village to find the extra fun!

There’s also a month of fun games for brain breaks at the Google Santa Tracker. This site has games that teach coding, so your students can play and learn.

Yes, Santa’s on his way. With sleigh bells ringing.

Enjoy and have a magical holiday season!


If you’d like to read more holiday posts on the TeacherWriter.co blog, here are some you might like.

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