What is the NORAD Santa Tracker?

Know where Santa is at every moment on Christmas Eve

Annually, since 1955, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has operated its NORAD Tracks Santa program. On Christmas Eve, as Santa Claus begins his journey around the world to deliver presents, NORAD's Santa Tracker monitors Kris Kringle's progress as he visits an estimated 6,424 homes per second. 

What is NORAD Tracks Santa?

The NORAD Tracks Santa program has been an annual event since 1955, with NORAD issuing press releases and status reports to newspapers and TV stations. Many North American TV networks even include NORAD Tracks Santa as part of their Christmas Eve weather reports. For many years, excited children could call NORAD's dedicated hotline to keep up-to-date too. Then, in 1997, NORAD Tracks Santa went online for the first time. 

The NORAD Santa Tracker

The night before Christmas is Santa's busiest time, as he attempts to travel 510,000,000 km overnight, delivering presents as he goes. NORAD's day job is to monitor the skies, but they turn their attention to Santa Claus' trip for one night each year.

Screenshot of the NORAD Santa Tracker Map with the United States visible.

On Christmas Eve, when the countdown reaches zero, NORAD turns on its Santa Tracker, an interactive 3D map which displays St. Nick's current location. The map is built on the CesiumJS open-source 3D mapping library, which combines the stars, lighting from the sun, Bing Maps satellite imagery, and 3D models of terrain.

As Santa has to travel so fast, real-time video footage would be almost impossible. Instead, he's given a CGI representation on the map showing his latest location. NORAD also has some strategically placed Santa Cams for video footage; where these Santa Cams are available, a camera icon is displayed on the map. Selecting the icon opens a panel for you to view that location's Santa Cam footage. 

Screenshot of the NORAD Santa Tracker Map with the London Santa Cam displayed.

As the night progresses, the locations where Santa has been spotted will be marked on the map. Selecting one of these locations opens a small pop-up where you can learn more about the area.

Controls on the upper right of the Santa Tracker allow you to zoom in and out and rotate the map. You can also rotate your view by pressing the left mouse button and dragging, and zoom using the mouse wheel.

While one of the most interactive ways to track Santa Claus, the website isn't the only way to stay up to date with Santa's progress. The NORAD Tracks Santa team can be found posting updates, videos, and other highlights throughout the night on their Facebook and Twitter profiles. 

Counting Down to Christmas

While the Santa Tracker is only available from 08:00 GMT on Christmas Eve, the website is available all year round. Visit the North Pole, and you'll be able to watch short videos about Santa and read more about NORAD's work. The Crew Answers section contains the NORAD Tracks Santa FAQs, with all the critical questions answered, like when to put the Reindeer food out, and if Santa is allergic to cats. 

Screenshot of the NORAD Santa Tracker website's North Pole, also called Santa's Village.

Visiting the North Pole's Library is a worthwhile pre-Christmas activity, too, where you can learn more about Santa, his sleigh, and holiday traditions around the world. While you're there, take a trip to The Music Stage, where you can find a selection of your favorite holiday songs, mostly performed by the U.S. Air Force Academy Band. 

On December 1st, the countdown to Christmas truly begins on the NORAD Tracks Santa website. Each day, a new square opens on the countdown calendar to unlock holiday-themed games and activities to help you get in the festive spirit in advance of the big day.