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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

December 24, 1955

Happy eve before Christmas, everybody! I can't believe that we're on the twenty-fourth day of December already! Just one more day to go before we open up presents, sing Christmas carols, and gather together with our families and enjoying their company...

...or, at the very least, setting aside one day of the year where you promise that you will not kill them.

It also happens to be the second last day of the 2013 edition of “THE POP CULTURE ADDICT'S ADVENT CALENDAR”. Can you believe that we're almost finished wrapping up yet another Christmas season? I know that I am conflicted. I'm happy that we're celebrating Christmas...but sad to see it end. Christmas – despite the fact that I work a job in retail which can be quite frustrating during the holidays – is still one of my all-time favourite holidays, and I imagine that once December 26th rolls around, I'll be having a little dose of post-holiday blues. I'll likely be talking about that a little bit later this week.

But for now, I have a Christmas Eve blog to write. And, since Christmas Eve falls on a Tuesday this year, it's time for a holiday version of the Tuesday Timeline! So, let's go ahead with the events that took place throughout history on Christmas Eve.

640 – Pope John IV is elected

1777 – The island nation of Kiritimati (Christmas Island) is founded by James Cook

1814 – The War of 1812 officially ends with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent

1818 – The first performance of Silent Night takes place in the Church of St. Nikolaus in Oberndorf, Austria

1826 – The “Eggnog Riot” begins at the United States Naval Academy (I almost selected this topic to write about before I discovered another topic to cover instead!)

1851 – Fire destroys the Library of Congress

1906 – Reginald Fessenden transmits the very first radio broadcast

1914 – A “Christmas Truce” between Germany and Great Britain took place during World War I

1922 – Actress Ava Gardner (d. 1990) is born in Smithfield, North Carolina

1939 – A Christmas Eve appeal for peace is made by Pope Pius XII during the first year of combat for World War II

1968 – The crew of Apollo 8 enters into orbit around the Moon – the first humans to achieve such a feat

1969 – Charles Manson is granted the right to act as his own lawyer at the Sharon Tate/Leno and Rosemary LaBianca murder trial

1974 – Darwin, Australia is nearly obliterated as Cyclone Tracy makes landfall

1992 – Peyo (b. 1928) – the creator of The Smurfs – dies at the age of 64

1994 – The hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 begins

2003 – Spanish police thwart an attempt by ETA to detonate explosives inside Madrid, Spain's Chamartin Station during the afternoon hours of Christmas Eve

2012 – The world says goodbye to two American actors – Charles Durning and Jack Klugman

And, the following famous faces are celebrating a birthday this December 24th. So, on the slices of cake (or yule log, if you will), you can find candles being blown out by Mary Higgins Clark, Barry Chuckle, Lemmy Kilmister, Nicholas Meyer, Steve “Red Green” Smith, Warwick Brown, Timothy Carhart, Clarence Gilyard, Anil Kapoor, Kate Spade, Darren Wharton, Mary Ramsey, Mark Valley, Diedrich Bader, Ricky Martin, Stephenie Meyer, Ryan Seacrest, Louis Tomlinson (One Direction), and Melissa Suffield.

So, now that we have that all out of the way...which year will we be going back in time to visit?

Well, it happens to be December 24, 1955!

And, what was so special about this date in history some fifty-eight years in the past? Just an annual holiday tradition that children of all ages and generations have taken part in for years!

How many of you reading this remember trying to stay awake all night long on Christmas Eve, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus sliding down your chimney and laying presents underneath the Christmas tree?  I have to admit that when I was a little kid, I always seemed to have a very hard time staying asleep on Christmas Eve night.  I would always want to stay up as late as possible to see if I could catch Santa in the act.  I even staged a camp out right next to the cookies and carrots that I left for Santa and the reindeer for a snack one year, determined to catch a glimpse of him.  Somehow, I ended up falling asleep, and when I woke up, I was in my bedroom and the cookies and carrots were gone.  

He had to have carried me upstairs to bed without waking me.  Yep.  That was it.  Somehow, Santa sprinkled sleeping powder all over me and carried me upstairs to bed so that I wouldn't interrupt him in scattering more gifts underneath the tree.  That had to be it.

Okay, okay.  So when I was a kid, my attempts to chat with Santa fell flat.  And, believe me, I'm sure that I'm not the only one who tried to find out when Santa would come and visit our homes.  After all, I'm sure almost all of us tried to stay up late at some point hoping to see him.

And, on December 24, 1955, the method in which we could try and track Santa down was first established!

I'm sure most of you kids nowadays can find out exactly where Santa Claus is at any hour of the day with just a click of a mouse or the touch of a screen, thanks to the feature known as "NORAD Tracks Santa".  It's been an institution for nearly six decades, after all.  And, if you click HERE, then you can see exactly where Santa is flying right now!  Go on, click the link!  As of right now, Santa is apparently flying over Tokyo, Japan as I post this (circa 8:50 a.m. EST)!

But did you know that when the program first began, it originated in an ad for a department store?

These days, the department store chain known as "Sears" is somewhat struggling in a rather interesting economic period.  But for many decades, Sears was somewhat synonymous with the Christmas season.  How else can you explain why Sears' "Wish Book" catalogue is considered to be one of the first signs that the holidays are fast approaching.  Oh, the stories I could tell of flipping through that book, writing my initials beside every toy and game that my little heart desired.

Well, in 1955, the Sears location in Colorado Springs, Colorado put a full length advertisement in the newspaper which was specifically addressed to children.  And, as luck (and a quick Google search) would have it, I just so happen to have that very advertisement below!  Have a look!

So, according to the ad, kids could call the number up above (in this case, it would be 632-6681), which would allow them to speak with Santa himself!

(Actually, come to think of it, I remember that there was a show that aired on YTV with the title "Santa Calls", which allowed kids to call into a television studio, in which Santa would be hosting a show.  Funny how silly things can jog silly memories, huh?)

It was a nice idea...but unfortunately, Sears goofed up in a HUGE way.  You see, when they printed off the ad, they inadvertently gave out the incorrect phone number!  My guess is that it was a minor error (two numbers got mixed up, for example).  But Sears was not getting any phone calls at any time on December 24.

Instead, the calls were being made to the Colorado Springs' Continental Air Defense Command (or CONAD, as it was referred to).  Manning the switchboard that night was Colonel Harry Shoup, who was at first confused as to why little boys and girls would be calling him, asking him about where Santa Claus was.

Now, most people whenever they get a phone call from someone who was intending to call someone else would hang up after telling them that they had dialed the wrong number.  But Shoup was not like most people.  In fact, he decided that he would give the kids what they wanted.  He actually got his operators to assist him in answering every single call that came in from a child by tracking down Santa's location and updating the child on where Santa was in the world.  It was a lovely gesture on all of their parts, and for years afterwards, Colonel Shoup was known as the "Santa Colonel".

Who knew that a mix up with phone numbers would spawn a yearly tradition that is observed just about anywhere where people celebrate Christmas?  By 1958, CONAD had been replaced with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (or NORAD), but the tradition of tracking down Santa Claus remained.

As time passed, more and more options for tracking Santa's journey across the world were added.  People could listen to the radio and hear up to date broadcasts, television meteorologist would interrupt the weather to talk about where Santa was, and as recently as 2011, had fan pages on Facebook and a Twitter account!  Talk about updating for the twenty-first century!

Now everybody knows that Santa has his helpers.  After all, his elves help him make all the toys for good little boys and girls, and he also has representatives all over the world pitching in at malls, holiday parties, and charity events to wish everybody a Merry Christmas.  Well, the NORAD Tracks Santa event is no exception!  The program is run entirely on volunteer basis, where thousands of people volunteer their time to answer calls and e-mail messages.  And, I imagine that they need those volunteers, considering that between the hours of 2:00 a.m. on December 24 and 3:00 a.m. on December 25, an estimated 70,000 calls and 12,000 e-mails are sent out!  

And, just who makes up this group of volunteers?  Well, military personnel, civilians, and even a few celebrities!  Did you know that Michelle Obama has volunteered for the program by answering telephone calls the last two years?  So, just imagine...when you call and ask where Santa is, the First Lady of America might just be the one taking your call!

The NORAD site also contains a lot of other cool features.  You can play games while you wait for Santa, you can watch Santa through the "SantaCam", and you can also track down the places that Santa has already visited (as well as just how many gifts Santa has delivered, which as of 8:50 a.m. has reached 828 MILLION!)

And to think that this annual tradition began with a misprint in a newspaper ad!  Talk about a mistake paying off in the long run!

And with that, I wish all of you a safe and merry Christmas Eve.  But, don't wait up for Santa TOO long.  You don't want to miss the final day of the advent calendar!  As far as the topic...well, I'm gonna surprise you!

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