Google Earth has just announced a new gadget that “tracks” the travels of Santa Claus over the days leading up to Christmas Eve. The downer is that you must download both Google Earth and the Santa-tracking program (though they’re free), but on the upside, you get a flyby of Santa’s workshop at the North Pole and a peek at whimsical presents hidden around the world. It’s a nice gesture.
The hottest Kringle radar around still belongs to the NORAD Santa Tracker. This service of the North American Air Defense Command has been online since 1998, and goes back decades farther: Norad’s history page claims the whole thing started by accident in 1955 when a Sears Roebuck ad misprinted “Santa’s” phone number, accidentally giving kiddies the defense command’s operations hotline instead. Yoops!
The Norad site has grown elaborate over the years — now it includes a Santa countdown (good), a rock-n-roll version of “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” by the Air Force Academy Band (not quite so good), and Santa shout-outs from B-list celebrities like Casper Van Dien, Leeza Gibbons, and the cast of the TV show Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide (just plain awkward).
Despite all the hoopla, the heart of the effort is still simple and pure: the phony tracking of a non-existent old man by a multi-billion-dollar apparatus designed to locate incoming nuclear missiles. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.