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Santa embraces new media

Tracking now done via Twitter, Facebook

DENVER - Santa Claus is piling up more than presents this year. The big man's trackers at NORAD say he also broke records this Christmas Eve.

Volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado were fielding 8,000 calls an hour Saturday afternoon, on pace to break a record. Also, Santa's NORAD Facebook page approached 920,000 "likes" by midafternoon. Last year, Santa had 716,000 "likes."

Volunteers at NORAD Tracks Santa said children started calling at 4 a.m. to find out where Santa was.

"The phones are ringing like crazy," Lt. Cmdr. Bill Lewis said Saturday.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command has been telling anxious children about Santa's whereabouts every year since 1955. That was the year a Colorado Springs newspaper ad invited children to call Santa on a hotline, but the number had a typo, and dozens of youngsters wound up talking to the Continental Aerospace Defense Command, which was NORAD's predecessor.

The officers on duty played along and began sharing reports on Santa's progress. It's now a deep-rooted tradition at NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canada command that monitors North America's skies and seas from a control center at Peterson.

NORAD's Santa updates were big on social media, too. Besides the website, Facebook, and Twitter pages, Santa this year has a new tracking app for smartphones. The app includes the Elf Toss, a game similar to Angry Birds.

Michelle Obama was among the volunteers Saturday for a second year in a row. She took about 10 calls that she fielded from the Obama family's holiday vacation in Hawaii. Lewis said the first lady's voice did not throw any of the phoning children.

One young caller, named Owen, asked her, "I was wondering, when will Santa be in Abbottstown, Pennsylvania?"

"He kind of moves - right now, he's over Estonia," the first lady told him. "But generally, he can hop all across the globe at any time. . . . He will be at your house as soon as every child in the house is asleep."

"OK," Owen replied.