Norad’s Santa Tracker is an annual Christmas tradition that began back in December 1955, when a straight-laced military man decided to be a good sport in response to a newspaper typo that prompted kids to call his top-secret hotline.

As the story goes, Sears Roebuck & Co. had placed an advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper telling kids to call a phone number so they could talk to Santa.

However, the number was wrong.

Instead of Santa, the five-year-old child who called the number seeking the man in the red suit got Col. Harry Shoup, the operations commander at the Continental Air Defence Command in Colorado.

Where Is Santa?  How You Can Still Track Santa Online

Where Is Santa? How You Can Still Track Santa Online

The hotline was meant for calls from generals, or even the U.S. president, so the colonel was taken aback and thought somebody was playing a trick on him.

Asked by the young voice on the line if he was one of Santa’s helpers, the military man finally figured it was a child calling.

Many more calls came in to that wrong number, leading the colonel to call a local radio station and say: “We have an unidentified flying object. Why, it looks like a sleigh!” Kids who called the military phone were given updates by Shoup’s staff.

From that beginning, the Norad Santa Tracker operation now fields more than 100,000 phone calls that keep 1,200 volunteers busy on Christmas Eve. The Santa Tracker website gets more than 20 million visitors.

Watch Reg Sherren’s report above for more on the story of how Norad began tracking Santa’s flight.

Norad provides updates by phone, Facebook, Twitter and email:

 

Since December 1, Google has been counting down the days until Christmas with a new game, novelty, or project on the search giant’s Santa site. For 2014, Google is also hoping to teach people to code with some JavaScript lessons sprinkled in with the Christmas fun.

he countdown includes Google holiday classics. My personal favorite is the Santa voice mail utility—well worth using over and over and over again. I’ve yet to meet anyone who hated the surprise of getting one of those calls.

Just as with NORAD, on Wednesday Google will let you track Santa on Google Earth via its Santa site, complete with facts about each destination.

Mobile users can download the Android app or use the mobile site atsantatracker.google.com. There’s also aChrome extension to keep Santa updates just a click away. The extension adds a few neat Christmas-themed HTML5 tricks to any web page you’re viewing, providing an elf bus stop and friendly-looking Zeppelin for you to play with, as well as steadily frosting the window from snow.

Google hasn’t said anything official about using Google Now to get updates on Santa’s whereabouts, but it looks like you’ll be able to do it in some form. Typing “where is Santa” into Google brings up an image, a location (Santa’s Village at the time of writing, on December 22), and a note on how many days until Santa departs. The same thing happens on mobile using Google Now, although Google didn’t read out the location during my tests on Monday.