One tradition that has a fairly recent history is “Elf on the Shelf.” Especially fun for younger children, the elf is tasked with being the eyes and ears of Santa, and makes sure little boys and girls are behaving while spying on them from a different location each day. Some parents are extremely creative in “hiding” the elf for their children to find, and then sharing their ideas with fellow parents. This year, it seems, parents are getting a bit of a break with the Elf having to quarantine for 14 days before he can safely begin his duties.

Another tradition that has gained in popularity in recent years actually began in 1955 at the height of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union. A general at the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) in Colorado received a call on a top-secret hotline.

Bracing himself for news of a missile attack, the general instead heard the shaky voice of a young boy asking, “Are you really Santa Claus?” The number had mistakenly been published in the newspaper as a Sears Santa hotline! Instead of dismissing the incident, CONAD (renamed the North American Aerospace Defense  Command or NORAD in 1958) embraced the role as the official Santa Tracker, using its massive satellite network once a year to broadcast Santa’s exact whereabouts. Today, 1,500 NORAD troops and volunteers answer phone lines on Christmas Eve.

Beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Christmas Eve, kids of all ages can receive updates on Santa’s location. Call 1-877-HI-NORAD or send an e-mail to