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The Cute Reason The US Government 'Tracks' Santa's Trip

Each year, volunteers for a US government department born by accident answer the calls of thousands of kids who want to know how Santa's travelling.

Officials at the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command in Colorado Springs have been tracking St. Nick's whereabouts for more than 60 years, all because a newspaper editor didn't do their job too well.

In 1955, at the height of the Cold War, the phone on Colonel Harry Shoup's desk rang.

Shoup was based at the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), which had the serious job of monitoring a far-flung radar network for any sign of a nuclear attack on the US.

"Are you really Santa Claus?" a little girl on the other end asked.

As it turned out, a Colorado Springs newspaper had run an ad inviting kids to call Santa, but mistakenly listed the hotline number of Shoup's phone.

After some initial confusion, the colonel realised he wasn't talking to a military general as expected, and ended up playing along.

It would have been hard for Shoup to imagine his kind gesture for this one little girl would lead to the 1500-strong team of civilian and military volunteers -- now known as NORAD Tracks Santa -- who answer the phones for tens of thousands of kids today.

Last year, NORAD Tracks Santa received 126,000 phone calls, 18 million website hits, 1.8 million followers on Facebook and 179,000 more on Twitter.

The 160 phones it takes to handle the calls coming in on 1-877-HI-NORAD sit in a room with big screens on the walls showing a Santa icon making its way across the globe.

The online tracker plays Christmas tracks while reindeer pull a sleigh over images of the Earth provided by NASA, accompanied by his last stop and ETA on the next one.

There's even an app, for when you need to stay updated while out and about.

This year is the service's 63rd year, and despite a partial government shutdown, the phones will still be ringing hot.

The US military confirmed NORAD Tracks Santa would not be affected by the shutdown because it is run by volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base and is funded by the Department of Defense's budget which was approved earlier this year.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama answers a call as part of NORAD in 2014. Image: Getty

"It really gets you into the Christmas spirit,"  Madison Hill, a volunteer who helped answer the phones in two previous years, told AAP.

One year, she took a call from a boy who began reading a very long Christmas list. "I remember having to cut him off after the 10th present or so," she said, explaining to him that she had to take calls from other children.

Sometimes the volunteers have to handle the unexpected. In 2012, a child from Newtown, Connecticut, asked if Santa could bring extra toys for families who had lost children in the mass shooting that year at Sandy Hook Elementary.

With AAP.

Featured Image: NORAD Tracks Santa Instagram