Military Santa tracker live despite US govt shutdown26 December 2018 AFP, Washington
US President participates in NORAD Santa tracker phone calls from the White House in Washington on Monday.
The US government shutdown may have temporarily dimmed Washington's National Christmas Tree but never fear, Santa Claus still came to town-with the military tracking his path across the globe.
Just as it has since the 1950s the Canadian and American defense agency NORAD delivered live updates on the man in the red suit's international gift delivery route.
NORAD eased the fears of good little boys and girls concerned the tracker might be down, after US lawmakers failed agree on a budget, triggering a partial shutdown of federal services, including the maintenance of the Christmas tree outside the White House.
"In the event of a government shutdown, NORAD will continue with its 63-year tradition of NORAD Tracks Santa on Dec. 24," the agency tweeted of the tracker, the Pentagon's largest public outreach program.
"Military personnel who conduct NORAD Tracks Santa are supported by approximately 1,500 volunteers who make the program possible each and every year."
The 3-D, interactive website at www.noradsanta.org showed Santa on his delivery route, allowing users to click and learn more about the various cities along the way.
Just after 0645 GMT, Father Christmas's reindeer-powered sleigh was headed for Monterrey, Mexico, having already delivered more than six billion gifts.
In addition to tracking St Nick, volunteers donning military garb and Santa hats also respond to tens of thousands of calls and emails from eager children hoping to probe for details including their Christmas wish lists.
The Trumps, who canceled their holiday trip to Mar a Lago, their residence and club in Florida, in light of the shutdown, took a turn fielding calls from the White House on Monday evening.
"Hello, is this Coleman? Merry Christmas. How are you? How old are you?" Trump said when answering one call.
But he went on to raise doubts about Santa's existence, asking: "Are you still a believer in Santa Claus? 'Cuz at seven it's marginal, right?"
Melania apparently managed to skirt that sensitive issue in calls she answered.
"I want to wish you a Merry Christmas. Thank you. Nice talking to you," she told one caller.
The couple later attended a Christmas Eve service at the Washington National Cathedral.
The Santa tracker presented by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) dates to 1955, when a Colorado newspaper advertisement misprinted a phone number to connect children with Santa and mistakenly directed them to the military nerve center hotline.
To avoid disappointing the eager children, NORAD's director of operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, ordered his staff to check the radar to see where Santa might be and update the children on his location.
Decades later volunteers are armed with a 14-page playbook with talking points to respond to queries from excited children.
The Defense Department is able to follow Santa's journey thanks to satellites that pick up heat from lead reindeer Rudolph's bright red nose, which "gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch," according to Politico magazine.
"Historical data and more than 60 years of NORAD tracking information lead us to believe Santa Claus is alive and well in the hearts of people throughout the world," the Pentagon's handbook reads.
Every Christmas Eve, the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, claims to track Santa Claus' flight across the globe, a tradition dating to 1955, when a department store printed the phone number of a NORAD colonel in a Christmas newspaper ad by mistake.
This year, though, the NORAD calls came at a precarious time for the president, who is mired in crises, from a government shutdown that has affected a quarter of federal agencies and departments to a stock market selloff amid Trump's public criticisms of the Federal Reserve.
The NORAD calls were the first time Trump has been seen in public since the shutdown began. NORAD said on Friday it would continue the tradition in the event of a shutdown, adding in a tweet that military personnel would be supported by 1,500 volunteers.
Trump, who had been scheduled to leave for his Florida vacation home on Friday, has opted instead to stay at the White House during the shutdown so far, which occurred after he and top lawmakers failed to end an impasse over funding for his proposed wall along the border with Mexico.
Instead of enjoying the warmth of the Florida sun, Trump has spent the lead-up to the holiday meeting with lawmakers and Cabinet officials.
He has also used the time to tweet about people and subjects such as outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis, who abruptly resigned last week following Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria; North Korea; the Fed; and Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker.
"I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security," Trump tweeted on Monday.
Trump's Republican Party holds majorities in both congressional chambers until Jan. 3, when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.
But with the children, Trump appeared to try to keep things light as he sat beside his wife, Melania, in front of a roaring fireplace beneath a portrait of former President Abraham Lincoln.
"Are you still a believer in Santa?" he asked his interlocutor.
But even Christmas could not keep out news about the shutdown. Asked by reporters if any progress had been made on government funding talks, Trump said there was nothing to report.
"Nothing new," Trump said. "We need border security."