By Natasha Baker
TORONTO (Reuters) - Children eager to track Santa Claus on his annual yuletide journey to homes across the world can download a new mobile app from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
The new app for Windows 8, called NORAD Tracks Santa, is part of a 57-year-long holiday tradition at NORAD of tracking Santa. It will allow children to keep up with him on their mobile devices and joins similar apps for iOS, Android and web apps.
"Every December 24th since 1955 we have been telling children exactly where Santa is so that children all over the world can make sure that they're in bed on time so that Santa will deliver their presents," explained Stacey Knott, a deputy chief at NORAD, U.S.-Canadian military organization based in Colorado.
In addition to tracking Santa's location on Christmas Eve, the app also shows cameos from his route across major landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China. During the countdown to the big night, children can also use the apps to play games and watch videos.
NORAD's involvement dates back to a 1955 advertisement in a local Sears, Roebuck & Co department store asking children to call Santa directly. But the phone number in the ad contained a typo.
Instead of reaching Santa's private phone, the children gained direct access to the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor.
"Any call that came though on this line was typically the chairman, or the secretary of defense, or even the president," Knott said.
Colonel Harry Shoup was working that Christmas Eve when the first child called.
"This little tiny girl's voice said, ‘Is this Santa?'" Knott explained. " looked around because he thought someone was playing a joke on him, but then he talked to the girl's mom and realized what had happened."
Shoup instructed his staff to check the radar for signs of Santa and relayed the information to the children, and the tradition was born.
In addition to the free app which is available worldwide, children can visit www.noradsanta.org, call the hotline at 1-877-HI-NORAD, or email firstname.lastname@example.org on Christmas Eve to get information on Santa's location. The website is available in eight languages, including English and French.
Last year, NORAD fielded over 102,000 phone calls and 7,700 emails.
Knott said NORAD relies heavily on partners and volunteers to run the project.
"We have 1,200 volunteers who will come in and will tell people where Santa is located," she added.
So, how does Santa deliver all those gifts in one night?
"Number one, Santa flies faster than starlight," said Knott. "But we're not completely sure how he does it. It's a little bit of magic."
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Casciato)