President Trump, first lady take calls from children about Santa's whereabouts
President Donald Trump and the first lady took calls from children calling NORAD about Santa’s whereabouts on Christmas Eve, a service that is still running despite the partial government shutdown.
"Happy Christmas, and you just take care of yourself and say hello to your family," Trump told one caller at the White House. "Say hello to everybody."
NORAD, short for North American Aerospace Defense Command, tweeted Friday that it would still track Santa's flight across the globe as it has done for more than six decades.
The government went into a partial shutdown at midnight on that day, after Congress failed to reach a stopgap funding deal. The shutdown, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of federal employees being either furloughed or forced to work without immediate pay, could stretch into Thursday or longer.
First lady Melania Trump was heard asking a caller whether they had been good and wishing the child a merry Christmas. She told another child that Santa "is still far away" but was on his way to their home.
The NORAD Santa tracking tradition began in 1955, when a newspaper printed the incorrect number in an ad and children called the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Colonel Harry Shoup was on duty that night, and had operators report the location of Santa to the numerous callers, according to NORAD. The tradition was carried on when CONAD became NORAD after that agency was formed in 1958, the military said.
When Shoup took the first call, he assumed it was from the Pentagon or a general. Instead, he recalled in a interview with NORAD, a child's voice asked: "Are you really Santa Claus?"
"I said, 'Yes, I am, have you been a good little girl?'" he recalled. "She had a big long list of what she wanted ... I just get thrills thinking about it!"
Shoup died in 2009. His daughter, Terri Van Keuren, told NPR's Story Corps in 2014 that her father had two phones on his desk, including a red one. "Only a four-star general at the Pentagon and my dad had the number," she said.
Trump on Monday was heard asking a caller from Indiana "what's Santa going to get you for Christmas?" and after a pause, telling the caller "that’s fantastic!" and to have a great Christmas.
Every year, one colonel is assigned the task of overseeing NORAD volunteers who track Santa for children around the world.
Around 1,500 civilian and military volunteers who will answer the phones for kids calling 1-877-HI-NORAD. Now, with the internet, Santa's journey is also posted online (As of this writing, Santa and his sleigh were over Cayenne, French Guiana).
"They're all really sweet, small voices," Madison Hill, a volunteer who helped answer the phones in two previous years, told the Associated Press.
"I had a little girl tell me good night instead of goodbye," she said. "It's really sweet."
Last year, NORAD Tracks Santa drew 126,000 phone calls, 18 million website hits, 1.8 million followers on Facebook and 179,000 more on Twitter.