It would take more than a partial government shutdown to stop the North American Aerospace Defense Command delivering its updates on Santa's progress on Christmas Eve. The military says the NORAD Tracks Santa operation from the joint US-Canadian command will proceed as normal this year because it is run by volunteers and any funding involved was approved before the budget standoff, the AP reports. The operation will involve some 1,500 military personnel and volunteers working in two-hour shifts at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado to take phone calls from children.
The volunteers—who have a handbook to deal with questions like "Is there a Santa Claus?"—will take questions from children and listen to their Christmas lists. The tradition began in the early years of the Cold War, when Col. Harry Shoup answered his secret hotline, fearing news of a nuclear attack, NPR reports. "And then there was a small voice that just asked, 'Is this Santa Claus?'" Shoup's daughter said in a 2014 interview. Shoup, who initially responded gruffly, played along after the girl started to cry—and when he spoke to her mother, he realized that a Sears ad urging kids to call Santa had printed his number by mistake. He told his airmen to answer the phone as Santa. Since that night in 1955, the tradition has grown so much that 160 phones are used to answer the calls. (Michelle Obama took a shift answering the phones in 2010.)