Holiday Musings

Santa Claus – Essential Personnel

Christmas Eve is Serious Business

There’s no bah humbug at Peterson Airforce Base tonight, not even amid potentially grinchy government shutdowns. Santa Claus DOES NOT stop his Christmas deliveries. The 1,500 person crew of NORAD Santa Tracker, consisting of military personnel and volunteers, are busy on rotating two-hour shifts. Giving up time with friends and family to do something kind for other people’s children.

Santa making his appointed rounds

Keeping satellites trained on the red suited wonder and answering children’s questions—if Santa Claus is real, where his travels take him, and what they’d like to receive—is the order of the day. All day. Santa’s duties take him around the globe, after all. Sounds expensive.

But no worries.

“Any funding involved was approved before the budget standoff,” the AP reports. Not that Americans were really concerned about that. Christmas comes despite the Grinch, a fictional nasty often used to paint someone else as the bad guy.

The greatest gift too often forgotten

But God is good. He gave us His only begotten Son. His gifts are without measure for those who receive Him. And His Spirit remains. So, like it or not, the tradition of giving and receiving—often in secret with no thank you—won’t stop. It can’t. Not even when folks commercialize Santa Claus to excess. And why wouldn’t they if they don’t know the story?

So if you know the meaning of Christmas, and the origin of Santa Claus, pass it on. Most don’t know that the fantasy gift-giver is based on the 4th century Bishop of Myra, St. Nichols who purportedly, “rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their house each night for three nights so their father could pay a dowry for each of them.” Wiki continues to explain that, “after his parents died, Nicholas is said to have distributed their wealth to the poor.”

So, despite the marketing mayhem, Santa Claus is about giving. Spreading joy and good will to those you know and those you don’t. The NORAD Santa Tracker is too!

“Colonel” Santa

Terri Van Keuren, Rick Shoup, and Pam Farrell—the children of NORAD’s “Colonel Santa” also known as Colonel Harry Schoup—recall how it all began to NPR:

Terri remembers her dad had two phones on his desk, including a red one. “Only a four-star general at the Pentagon and my dad had the number,” she says.

“This was the ’50s, this was the Cold War, and he would have been the first one to know if there was an attack on the United States,” Rick says.

The red phone rang one day in December 1955, and Shoup answered it, Pam says. “And then there was a small voice that just asked, ‘Is this Santa Claus?’

The straight-laced Shoup, not one for monkey business, wasn’t amused. But the crying boy on the other end of the red phone eventually convinced the colonel the call was no joke. So Schoup ho-ho-hoed and subsequently discovered from the child’s mother that the classified number had been advertised by Sears. Oops.

Maybe not a wrong number!

The red phone kept ringing. Shoup assigned airmen to play Santa. Something that seemed silly at first, but the children were overjoyed. Newspapers called and were told that NORAD was tracking Santa. And why not? The red-phone number was blown. The world was on the edge of cold-war explosion. Kids were traumatized by air raid drills and talk of the bomb. (Those duck-and-cover exercises were still in force in the ’70’s.)

But instead of going Grinch, Colonel Shoup picked up the duty Providence supplied. He embraced his inner Santa–giving to those who needed something. Even if it was the assurance that they were covered where Santa Claus was concerned. “He got letters from all over the world, people saying, ‘Thank you, Colonel,’ for having, you know, this sense of humor. And in his 90s, he would carry those letters around with him in a briefcase that had a lock on it like it was top-secret information.”

His children all agree that despite their father’s serious contributions to the safety of this nation, his actions as Colonel Santa are those of which he was most proud.

Thank goodness for essential personnel, and the Christmas spirit that lives on despite grinches, government shutdowns, and a penchant for commercialism that that would have us ignore Santa Claus when we need him the most.

Write on!


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