WASHINGTON (AFP) - It's the question every good little girl and boy asks on Christmas Eve: When is Santa coming?
As it has done every year since 1955, a Canadian and American defense agency is tracking the jolly old man's path around the globe in his reindeer-powered sleigh.
A 3-D, interactive website at www.noradsanta.org shows Santa on his delivery route, allowing users to click to learn more about the various cities along the way.
The Santa tracker presented by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) dates to 1955, when a Colorado newspaper advertisement printed a phone number to connect children with St Nick mistakenly directed them to the hotline for the military nerve center.
To avoid disappointing the little ones, 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.
When not spreading holiday cheer, NORAD conducts aerospace and maritime control and warning operations - including monitoring for missile launches from North Korea, something that may have been on Santa's mind as he passed over the country's capital of Pyongyang.
"NORAD radars have sensed movement near the North Pole. It appears that the elves have finished loading Santa's sleigh and Santa has lifted off! Even loaded with all the gifts and goodies, Santa's sleigh seems to be moving lightning fast," the website said in a video clip at the launch of Santa's global journey.
As of 1545 GMT, Santa was headed for the Indonesia capital of Jakarta, having already left nearly 1.5 billion gifts for sleeping children in countries including New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
This year, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania, who are spending the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, were expected to participate in Santa Tracker calls Sunday afternoon.
Volunteers manning the NORAD phone line included military members in uniform, with a soldier completing his look with a camouflage Santa hat, according to photos on the website's Twitter account.
The Santa tracker "has become a magical tradition for generations of families everywhere," General Lori Robinson, commander of the US Northern Command and NORAD, told Politico.
"While certainly a reminder that we have the watch defending North America, our ultimate goal is to provide good will and cheer during the holiday season." Volunteers are armed with a 14-page handbook detailing the "tracking operation," Politico reported.
"When a rocket or missile is launched, a tremendous amount of heat is produced - enough for the satellites to see them," it says. "Rudolph's nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch. The satellites detect Rudolph's bright red nose with no problem."