The National American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) wants you to know that they'll be at their assigned posts once again this year, the 60th time, tracking Santa Claus on his flight around the planet Christmas Eve.

It all started with an incoming phone call on the "red phone" to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Christmas Eve, 1955. The red phone ringing meant that it was something very, very important, as that line was used primarily by the Pentagon or the CONAD commander-in-chief, General Earle Partridge. Instead of a high-ranking military official, the voice on the other end of the phone belonged to a little girl. A little girl with a question. U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, director of operations at the center, was the man who took the call.

“Yes, Sir, this is Colonel Shoup,” he barked.

Nothing but silence in response.

“Sir? This is Colonel Shoup,” he said.

Silence again.

“Sir? Can you read me alright?”

Finally, a soft voice on the other end.

“Are you really Santa Claus?” a little girl asked.

Colonel Shoup decided, once he determined he wasn't being pranked by anyone in the room, to play along.

“Yes, I am,” he answered. “Have you been a good little girl?"

The girl explained to Shoup that she would leave some food out for both Santa and his reindeer and then recited her Christmas list to him. Shoup thanked her for her hospitality, noting that Santa had a lot of traveling to do. How did he get to all those houses in one night, anyway, she asked.

Apparently, that was classified intelligence in Shoup’s mind. “That’s the magic of Christmas,” he said. If anyone asks her about that, he said, she should tell them to stop asking so many questions or Santa would put them on the naughty list.

How did this little girl, and the dozens of callers after her get the number to a classified, unpublished phone? A typo in an advertisement.

That day, Shoup would later learn, a local newspaper ran a Sears Roebuck ad inviting kids to contact Santa.

“Hey Kiddies!” the ad read. “Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night.” The ad listed Santa’s direct line, but the number in the copy was off by a digit. Instead of connecting to the special line Sears set up with a Santa impersonator, kids wound up calling a secret air defense emergency number.

For the details on how to track Santa with NORAD, click here.

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