This year, there’s a war on Christmas — literally, that is, if you go by the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Santa Tracker.
For 364 days out of the year, NORAD, a joint military venture between the United States and Canada, focuses on keeping our airspace safe and shooting down missile attacks, should they occur. Except on December 24th, when the organization runs what has become an immensely popular Christmas feature on its website: the Santa Tracker. Kids can follow Old Saint Nick’s progress across the globe via videos and a map, and even call in for updates.
This modern tradition stretches back to 1995, when a mistaken phone number printed in a Colorado Springs Sears Roebuck & Company catalog lead to kids calling the hotline of the Commander-in-Chief of CONAD (NORAD’s predecessor). Apparently, in line with the Christmas spirit, they ran with it, updating the kids on Santa’s progress, and it’s been going on ever since.
This year, NORAD’s not just monitoring Santa, they’re adding a graphic of a United States Air Force fighter jet to accompany his sleigh as he flies into restricted airspace. A spokesman for NORAD told The Boston Globe that this, “is part of our effort to give the program more of an operational feel… It’s still cutesy since its for kids, but we don’t want people to lose sight of our true mission.”
Well, I don’t know, maybe Christmas is one of those times when we can stop thinking about war and national defense? That’s just me. I’m sure there are plenty of people who like the idea of a Call of Duty type game staring Santa Clause.
And while I imagine that the average American doesn’t know much about NORAD’s function — I certainly had to look them up to get a better sense of it — I don’t think this move is just about education. With over a million people looking at the tracker online and around 114,000 people calling the hotline, the Santa Tracker gives NORAD a great opportunity to advertise to an impressionable audience. Hey kids, protect Santa Clause! Join the Air Force! It’s great marketing for them.
For the rest of us, it gives an unpleasant real-world veneer to what is essentially children’s entertainment. Santa doesn’t need military defense— he’s freaking Santa Claus! What super-powered Grinch would want to take him down? And, as Rober Rath on Slate humorously details, what militarized Scrooge would even be able to? As Rath writes, the dude moves at an estimated 650 miles per second and can crack the White House security systems without detection. On top of that, he’s a SAINT. Or at least a mythical figure, like some jolly, eggnog guzzling uncle of Thor.
I can imagine that the especially empathetic children who see this might feel some anxiety, thinking that their beloved Chris Kringle is in danger of strafing by North Korea. While other more savvy kids might start listening not for the sound of jingle bells and hoofbeats upon the roof, but the roar of jet engines. Either way, I say bah, humbug!
Come on, NORAD. Let’s keep the Santa Tracker kid friendly, innocent, and peaceful. Isn’t that what Christmastime is all about?