US first lady Michelle Obama fielded calls from awed children when she joined a Santa-tracking switchboard on Christmas Eve.
A telephone link from Hawaii, where the Obamas are spending Christmas, allowed her to pitch in with volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, who were answering phone calls and emails for the North American Aerospace Defence Command’s Santa-tracking programme.
“I was ecstatic because I was talking to the president’s wife,” said Evan Race, 10. “I was really surprised,” said his eight-year-old sister Anna. Seven-year-old Colin Race also got to talk with Mrs Obama.
The White House said Mrs Obama took calls for 40 minutes and spoke with children from at least a dozen families.
It is believed to be the first time in the 55-year history of the event that a first lady joined in, said Jamie Graybeal, Norad’s deputy chief of staff for communications.
Norad Tracks Santa, the official name of the programme, began in 1955 when a Colorado Springs newspaper advert invited children to talk to Santa on a hotline.
But there was a mistake in the printed phone number and dozens of youngsters ended up dialling the Continental Aerospace Defence Command in Colorado Springs, the predecessor to Norad.
The officers on duty played along and began passing on reports of Santa’s progress. It is now a cherished ritual at Norad, a joint US-Canada command that monitors the North American skies and seas from a control centre at Peterson.
“It’s really ingrained in the Norad psyche and culture,” said Canadian Forces Lt Gen Marcel Duval, the deputy commander of Norad, who pitches in to field French-language calls on Christmas Eve. It’s a goodwill gesture from all of us, on our time off, to all the kids on the planet.”
Last year Norad Tracks Santa answered 74,000 calls and 3,500 emails, and organisers expected to top that this year.