It’s December in America, and you know what that means: An infinitely peopled scrum engaged in trying, by any crassly rendered means necessary, to keep the attention of you and, more importantly, your children long enough to shoehorn in a sales pitch. Or, less cynically, ‘tis the holiday season.
So any interlude to the “Buy this!” cacophony is a welcome one, especially in the days just after Black Friday but before Burl Ives, Bing Crosby and The Chipmunks have completed their takeover of PA systems at stores where signage warns that there are only three, no two, no one! One shopping day left until Christmas! One such respite has come from the unlikeliest of places. Since the mid-1950s, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has temporarily repurposed its high-tech military-grade tracking gadgetry for the purposes of keeping an eye on Santa’s activities and announcing when the jolly gift giver has entered U.S. airspace.
It started as a mistake. According to NORAD’s Santa-tracking website, back in 1955 a Sears department store in Colorado Springs, Colorado misprinted the telephone number included in an ad aimed at getting kids to call and chat with Santa (like Santa didn’t have anything better to do). The hotline children actually ended up calling was the operations line used by then-NORAD director Harry Shoup. Staffers normally charged with defending the country from intercontinental missile attacks and the like gamely put on a different hat and offered callers updates on Santa’s current whereabouts. This heartwarming military tradition has continued ever since. Recently, however, the din of consumerism has managed to permeate mountain rock and bunker walls (this Examiner’s idea of NORAD refuses to be anything other than the one he saw in “WarGames”).
In 2007, however, NORAD partnered with Google. Nothing too awful about that, aside from the plugs for Google’s map applications that now accompanied the interactive experience of reciprocating Ol’ Saint Nick’s well-documented voyeurism. But then, last year, the stakes were raised as NORAD bumped Google for Microsoft, thus setting in motion a fight for Santa app dominance between the rival tech companies. As reported on Bustle earlier today, kids now have options as to how they’ll keep tabs on Santa this year, and they’re preference for method of tracking his flying sleigh might boil down to the appeal of the bells and whistles unique to each site.
Both sites go the latter-day Advent calendar route, inviting people to come back every day during the countdown to Christmas to unlock another game or video. Google’s version is arguably more eye-popping, using an interactive North Pole village as its homepage with links to hyperkinetic animated clips (Santa on a rocket Vespa!) and simple, derivative action games (direct skydiving Santa through a series of floating presents and peppermint-striped rings as he descends into your home town!). NORAD, by way of Microsoft, is a little more linear, with easily recognizable tabs that link to videos, games (a match puzzle game! We certainly needed another one of those!) and, not kidding, the U.S. Census Bureau’s population counters for some reason.
As to which one will win out in winning consumers’ hearts, the next few weeks will decide as new games are unlocked by children and adults with nothing better to do. Until then, enjoy NORAD’s intro video, complete with Santa’s sleigh being flanked by fighter jets over mountainous terrain. Whether the jets are meant as an escort or because Santa failed to respond to defense requests for aircraft identification is unclear as the video fades to black. If you look closely, though, in the red glow of his nose, the viewer can make out the panic in Rudolph’s eyes. Sorry kids, no Christmas this year. Santa’s radio didn’t work.