Happy Accidents #051 - NORAD Santa Tracker

A wrong number evolves into a beloved global phenomenon

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'Tis the season for a heartwarming tale that started with a simple typo and transformed into a cherished holiday tradition.

The NORAD Santa Tracker, an annual joy for millions, has a delightful origin story that began with a wrong number.

Let's dig in, shall we?


This is the part of every Happy Accident story where we see every successful outcome starts with the person putting themselves in a favorable position. They work hard, they try new things, they meet new people. They're not just sitting around 'hoping' to be successful some day.

In 1955, a Colorado Springs newspaper advertisement by Sears aimed to connect children with Santa Claus through a hotline.

However, a printing mishap altered the phone number, redirecting the calls to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), NORAD's precursor. Um….whoops!

On that fateful night, Colonel Harry Shoup, rather than dismissing the wrong calls, turned it into an opportunity to spread holiday cheer.


This is the part of every success story where there's a chance encounter, a serendipitous moment, an unintentional discovery (or Happy Accident) that paves the way for the next steps. In some cases, a Happy Accident can even be disguised as something bad in the moment.

Answering the first unexpected call, Colonel Shoup found himself speaking to a child eagerly anticipating Santa's voice.

Instead of shattering the illusion, Shoup and his team decided to play along, offering updates on Santa's supposed location.

This impromptu act of kindness laid the foundation for what would eventually become the NORAD Santa Tracker.

Santa makes his way to your house


Just like Happy Accidents don't just fall into your lap (you need to set the stage first), they also don't turn into anything if you don't recognize them and take action. This is the part of every success story where we see people capitalizing on their Happy Accident.

As NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) was established in 1958, the accidental tradition of tracking Santa's journey persisted.

Recognizing the community's enthusiasm, NORAD fully embraced the role of Santa's official tracker, making it an annual event.

Evolving with technology, the NORAD Santa Tracker now involves a dedicated team of volunteers and a high-tech setup.

The website allows people worldwide to follow Santa's sleigh as he spreads festive joy. (Check it out here)

**Special thanks to my grade 5 teacher, Jane Junkin, for passing this story on to me for the newsletter 🙂

As we eagerly await Santa's journey again next Christmas, let's remember that sometimes, the most magical moments begin with an unplanned twist.

May your holidays be filled with joy, warmth, and perhaps a sprinkle of accidental magic.


The NORAD Santa Tracker originated in 1955 when a Sears ad misprinted a hotline number, accidentally directing calls to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), NORAD's precursor.

Colonel Harry Shoup, who answered the calls, turned the mistake into a heartwarming tradition by providing updates on Santa's location.

What began as a wrong number evolved into a beloved global phenomenon, blending holiday cheer with cutting-edge technology and volunteer spirit. 🎅

Some fun facts:

  • The NORAD Santa Tracker began with a red phone on Colonel Shoup's desk and now employs cutting-edge technology, including radar, satellites, and even fighter jets to monitor Santa's global journey.

  • The NORAD Santa Tracker isn't just for North Americans; it has turned into a global phenomenon. People from around the world eagerly participate in this joyful tradition.

  • Thousands of volunteers, including NORAD personnel and their families, dedicate their time to answer phone calls and emails from curious children tracking Santa's progress.

The lessons here:

  1. Adaptability Matters: Colonel Shoup's quick thinking and adaptability turned an accidental situation into a cherished tradition. Being open to unexpected turns can lead to delightful outcomes.

  2. Community Connection: The NORAD Santa Tracker exemplifies the power of connecting with communities. A simple act of kindness can resonate far beyond its initial intent.

  3. Embracing Tradition: What started as an accident became a tradition that spans generations. Embracing and building on unexpected successes can create lasting legacies.


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Hey, Dennis Geelen here. Author of the Happy Accidents newsletter.

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