Where is Santa? Michelle Obama might know

2010-12-25 08:59

Colorado – Some kids who call NORAD on Christmas Eve to find out where Santa is hang up as soon as a volunteer answers the phone – probably because they expected a recording and not a real person, veteran Santa trackers say.

There were some especially awed kids yesterday, when one of the people answering the phone was first lady Michelle Obama.

A telephone link from Hawaii, where the Obamas are on vacation, allowed her to pitch in with volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, who were answering phone calls and e-mails for the North American Aerospace Defence Command’s Santa-tracking program.

“I was ecstatic because I was talking to the president’s wife,” said Evan Race (10).

“I was really surprised,” said his 8-year-old sister, Anna. Seven-year-old Colin Race also got to talk to Obama.

The White House said she took calls for 40 minutes and spoke with children from at least a dozen families.

It’s believed to be the first time in the 55-year history of the event that a first lady joined in, said Jamie Graybeal, NORAD’S deputy chief of staff for communications.

NORAD Tracks Santa, the official name of the programme, began in 1955 when a Colorado Springs newspaper advert invited kids to talk to Santa on a hotline. The phone number had a typo, and dozens of kids wound up dialing the Continental Aerospace Defence Command in Colorado Springs, the predecessor to NORAD.

The officers on duty played along and began passing along reports on Santa’s progress. It’s now a cherished ritual at NORAD, a joint US-Canada command that monitors the North American skies and seas from a control centre at Peterson.

“It’s really ingrained in the NORAD psyche and culture,” said Canadian Forces Lt. Gen. Marcel Duval, the deputy commander of NORAD, who pitches in to field French-language calls on Christmas Eve. “It’s a goodwill gesture from all of us, on our time off, to all the kids on the planet.”

Duval is careful to say that tracking Santa doesn’t interfere with the work of watching out for enemy threats to the North American continent.

Last year, NORAD Tracks Santa answered 74 000 calls and 3 500 e-mails, and organisers expect to top that this year.

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