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Typo in 1955 leads to over a half-century of NORAD taking Santa's phone calls

This is the type of thing that feel-good Christmas movies are made of. Even First Lady Michelle Obama is helping field phonecalls this year. Check out NORAD's tracking system here as well as msnbc.com's own Santa tracker to see when jolly St. Nick will be in your neck of the woods.

Ed Andrieski / AP

Air Force Lt. Col. David Hanson, of Chicago, takes a phone call from a youngster in Florida at the Santa Tracking Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colo., on Dec. 24. Volunteers take as many as 80,000 phone calls from youngsters and adults around the world with questions about Santa and his travels. Lots of military secrets are hidden behind the gleaming walls of NORAD'S headquarters building, including this one: Just how do they get Santa's flight path onto their computer screens every Christmas Eve?Tracking Santa's travels is a celebrated tradition at the North American Aerospace Command, and it unfolds Friday for the 55th year.

noradsanta.org / AP

In this image provided by noradsanta.org, the official NORAD tracking of Santa Claus is shown on a satellite map of the world on Dec. 24. NORAD Tracks Santa, the official name of the exercise, began in 1955 when a Colorado Springs newspaper ad invited kids to talk to Santa on a hotline. The phone number had a typo, and dozens of kids wound up dialing the Continental Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, the predecessor to NORAD.

The AP reports: 

The officers on duty played along and began passing along reports on Santa's progress. It's now a cherished ritual at NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canada command that monitors the North American skies and seas from a control center 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 e-mails, and organizers expect to top that this year.