The Santa operation begins when a cluster of radar stations pick up an infrared signature emanating from Rudolph's nose.
Once again this year, children and families worldwide were able to track Santa's whereabouts on Christmas Eve thanks to the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD.
In what's become its own wildly popular tradition, NORAD's Santa Tracker lets families watch Father Christmas in 3D as he transits the South Pacific, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
From deep inside their headquarters, dozens of volunteers field an unrelenting wave of phone calls to 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723). They and other volunteers will answer such questions as "When will he come to my house? What kind of cookies does he like?" said program manager and NORAD spokesman Preston Schlachter.
Pentagon Press Secretary, Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, added, "On Christmas Eve, NORAD has one additional special mission, tracking Santa as he makes his way across the globe. This is Norad's 68th year conducting this important mission and children and families worldwide will be able to call to ask NORAD's live operators about Santa's location on the 24th."
We streamed the Santa tracker live on Christmas Eve 2023.
Like any good Christmas tale, the program's origin has been told for generations.
In 1955, Air Force Col. Harry Shoup -- the on-duty commander one night at NORAD's predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command -- answered a call from a child who dialed a number that was misprinted in an ad in a newspaper, thinking she was calling Santa.
Shoup "answered the call, thought it was a prank at first, but then realized what had happened and assured the child that he was Santa, and thus started the tradition," Schlachter said.
NORAD's mission is to watch the skies above North America for any potential threats. Come early Christmas Eve, the Santa operation begins when a cluster of radar stations in northern Canada and Alaska pick up an infrared signature emanating from Rudolph's nose. NORAD's array of geostationary satellites above the Earth monitor the journey.
It's all shown on large, "unclassified" display screens in a festively decorated command post at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs. Volunteers sit at tables equipped with telephones, garland, miniature Christmas trees, plenty of caffeine-laden candy and coffee.
"We Have the Watch," is NORAD's military-mission motto.
And when it comes to Santa, NORAD adds:
"Santa calls the shots. We just track him."
The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.