DENVER (AP) – Santa Claus set records Christmas Eve as he raced across the globe on his traditional holiday mission.
Santa tracking volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado said they fielded about 102,000 telephone queries beginning early Saturday on his progress, breaking the previous mark of 80,000.
And his NORAD Facebook page recorded about 999,000 “likes,” compared with 716,000 a year ago. Twitter followers increased from about 53,000 last year to more than 89,000.
Officials said records set this year were likely generated by people passing the word as well as social media interest.
“I think what happens is that every year the ones that participated” tell others, Canadian Navy Lt. Al Blondin. “There’s word of mouth.”
Volunteers at NORAD Tracks Santa said kids started calling at 4 a.m. Saturday to find out where Santa was.
“The phones are ringing like crazy,” Lt. Cmdr. Bill Lewis said Saturday.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command has been telling anxious children about Santa’s whereabouts every year since 1955. That was the year a Colorado Springs newspaper ad invited kids to call Santa on a hotline, but the number had a typo, and dozens of kids wound up talking to the Continental Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD’s predecessor.
The officers on duty played along and began sharing reports on Santa’s progress. It’s now a tradition at NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canada command that monitors the North American skies and seas from a control center at Peterson.
First lady Michelle Obama was among the volunteers for a second year in a row. She took about 10 calls from her family’s holiday vacation in Hawaii. Lewis said Obama’s voice didn’t throw any of the phoning children.
“They all just asked run-of-the-mill stuff. They wanted to know about Santa,” Lewis said.
After visiting many nations, Santa’s first stop in the U.S. came at 9:02 p.m. MST in Atlanta, Blondin said.
The NORAD website said Santa then set a generally westward course, making numerous stops including Cleveland, Denver and San Francisco. He later passed through Hawaii and Alaska before setting his home course for the North Pole.
In addition to NORAD’s Santa website and Facebook and Twitter pages, Santa this year has a new tracking app for smart phones. The app includes the Elf Toss, a game similar to Angry Birds. Blondin said there had been more than 700,000 downloads.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)