Every year if you meet me in person this time of year I am playing the part of Scrooge. Bah humbugging everyone I meet and generally taking up the personality of one of my favorite literary characters 24/7 until Christmas day. It has gotten to the point that those who know me will humbug me before wishing me a Merry Christmas.
Meanwhile at home I am writing letters from St. Nick to all my nieces and nephews.
And these are long affairs. two to three pages of personalization and then another four or five of news from the Pole involving Polar bears and penguins (oh yes, they got lost you see, and stayed on) elves A Wandering Troup of Mad Russian Minstrels and so on.
(This year I was particularly hard on that lazy Elf on a Shelf who just sits there, never does any useful work, never reports back to me and then sneaks your ring bologna cheese Cheerios and Cocoa when you go to bed).
Every Christmas these letters take 30-40 hours to turn out. And that's using a computer to write instead of longhand. The wife thinks I'm nutz.
But I have it on very good authority that the kids actually start watching their mail for these every year right after Thanksgiving, so we continue.
Thus when I saw this story I knew it was a kindred Christmas spirit.
No Wait, tis only the 19th...
NPR (yeah, I know, sorry):
NORAD's Santa Tracker Began With A Typo And A Good Sport
This Christmas Eve people all over the world will log on to the official Santa Tracker to follow his progress through U.S. military radar. This all started in 1955, with a misprint in a Colorado Springs newspaper and a call to Col. Harry Shoup's secret hotline at the Continental Air Defense Command, now known as NORAD.
Shoup's children, Terri Van Keuren, 65, Rick Shoup, 59, and Pam Farrell, 70, recently visited StoryCorps to talk about how the tradition began.
"This was the '50s, this was the Cold War, and he would have been the first one to know if there was an attack on the United States," Rick says.
The red phone rang one day in December 1955, and Shoup answered it, Pam says. "And then there was a small voice that just asked, 'Is this Santa Claus?' "
His children remember Shoup as straight-laced and disciplined, and he was annoyed and upset by the call and thought it was a joke — but then, Terri says, the little voice started crying.
"And Dad realized that it wasn't a joke," her sister says. "So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho'd and asked if he had been a good boy and, 'May I talk to your mother?' And the mother got on and said, 'You haven't seen the paper yet? There's a phone number to call Santa. It's in the Sears ad.' Dad looked it up, and there it was, his red phone number. And they had children calling one after another, so he put a couple of airmen on the phones to act like Santa Claus."
"It got to be a big joke at the command center. You know, 'The old man's really flipped his lid this time. We're answering Santa calls,' " Terri says.
"And Christmas Eve of 1955, when Dad walked in, there was a drawing of a sleigh with eight reindeer coming over the North Pole," Rick says.
"Dad said, 'What is that?' They say, 'Colonel, we're sorry. We were just making a joke. Do you want us to take that down?' Dad looked at it for a while, and next thing you know, Dad had called the radio station and had said, 'This is the commander at the Combat Alert Center, and we have an unidentified flying object. Why, it looks like a sleigh.' Well, the radio stations would call him like every hour and say, 'Where's Santa now?' " Terri says.
"And later in life he got letters from all over the world, people saying, 'Thank you, Colonel,' for having, you know, this sense of humor. And in his 90s, he would carry those letters around with him in a briefcase that had a lock on it like it was top-secret information," she says. "You know, he was an important guy, but this is the thing he's known for."
"Yeah," Rick says, "it's probably the thing he was proudest of, too."