There's only one way to know when Santa Claus is in the neighborhood -- the North American Aerospace Defense Command's (NORAD) Santa Tracking System.
For the first time this year, NORAD has set up on select rooftops special high resolution video cams to capture Claus as he delivers his gifts of toys and other presents.
Operating under a "Deter, Detect, Defend" motto since 1958, Canadians and Americans of NORAD have partnered to protect the airspace of Alaska, Canada and the contiguous 48 United States. Along with its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), NORAD has also kept a stealthy eye on the progress of Claus -- from house to house.
It's a tradition that began 50 years ago after a Colorado Springs store's advertisement for children to call Claus on a special "hotline" included a misprinted telephone number.
You guess it. It rang through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief's operations "hotline."
Then Director of Operations, Colonel Harry Shoup, received the first "Santa" call and realizing what had happened, checked the radar to look for Claus making his way south from the North Pole, spotted the unusual aircraft and began reporting the location and tracking the progress.
Since that time, NORAD depends on many volunteers giving up part of their holiday to track Claus from NORAD's Santa Tracking Operations Center and to answer phones with updates for the thousands of kids who call in. The media also relies upon the service to provide viewers with updates. In recent years, the Internet has provided real time video feeds of Claus and his eight tiny reindeer (Rudolph is out in front when the weather warrants it) on his rounds. This year, the information is provided in six languages.
In declassified files on the NORAD website, the two-nation surveillance operation reveals some of Claus' best-kept secrets.
NORAD explains that Claus manages to keep up with population growth and still visit every ZIP code, postal code and home on the planet because he does not travel in the temporal realm. That's evidenced by the fact that at more than 15 centuries old, he no longer ages. In mortal time, he appears to complete his trip around the globe in 24 hours, but to Claus, the trip takes much longer, according to NORAD. How much longer isn't clear.
NORAD said if Claus labored through 24 hours in real time he would have nano second fractions to stop at each home -- much too little time to complete a task that requires great care, precision and dexterity.
How Santa enters your home is a bit more of a mystery requiring special imagery to reveal.
St. Nicholas started the chimney tradition 1,500 years ago by dropping gifts of gold down the chimney to the less fortunate. Claus continued the tradition in his own way.
NORAD says if you don't have a chimney, Santa finds other ways to enter your home -- so consider reprogramming your security alarms. A small herd of spooked reindeer on your front lawn isn't a pretty sight.
More to the chimney entry question, NORAD data from satellite and fighter aircraft surveillance has discovered that Santa stands about 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs a portly 260 pounds, has a generous girth, rosy cheeks from sleigh riding at high altitudes, and flowing white hair and beard.
For a man of such size, only close-up, detailed imagery available on the NORAD website can fully reveal the secret of Santa's down-the-chimney technique.
Ho. Ho. Ho.