All systems are go for Santa’s Christmas Eve sleigh ride

With just hours to go, Santa is ready for his big night.
With just hours to go, Santa is ready for his big night. CDT file photo

Whether the weather outside is frightful — or it already promises to be a white Christmas — there will always be a constant theme on Dec. 24.

Children will be watching and waiting and wondering. How does Santa get here? What if something happens? He’s coming, right?

Don’t worry. Put on your Christmas jammies and get the milk and cookies ready. Everything is under control.

For one thing, the reindeer are ready to go.

According to an American Veterinary Medical Association press release, the team of four-footed fliers has been cleared for takeoff.

“I can assure you that all of them are in healthy condition and are all ready to go for Christmas Eve,” World Veterinary Association President Rene Carlson said with a wink and a nod.

Carlson said the animals’ annual exam includes updating vaccinations, making sure they were eating enough to make such a long trip and that they don’t have any colds or other infections that they could spread to animals in other areas of the world, like central Pennsylvania’s white-tailed deer population.

“At the same time, making sure they’re healthy also means that they’re less likely to catch any diseases themselves on that long flight,” Carlson said.

So they’re ready to make the trip, but how do they actually get to all of those houses, all over the world?

According to Penn State meteorologist John Nese, that’s where science probably comes in.

“In this day and age, Santa would really need to hop on the Internet or have a good meteorologist on staff,” he said.

Just like airports rely on assessments of the weather to plan what flights can take off or land, anyone planning a high-speed journey of such length would need to take wind, snow and rain conditions into account.

Nese said he is not sure just what path the North Pole’s planning team has in mind.

“Most of the world’s population lives at a latitude where it would make sense to go west to east, but when you take into consideration the time zones, he has to go east to west, so I’m not sure how he does it. It always boggles my mind,” Nese said.

Whichever way he goes, children (and parents) can follow him thanks to the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s website,

NORAD has followed Santa’s Christmas Eve movements for 59 years, using a combination of radar, satellites and “Santacams,” introduced in 1998. NORAD has even been known to give Santa a fighter jet escort at times.

“We’re the only organization that has the technology, the qualifications and the people to do it. And, we love it! NORAD is honored to be Santa’s official tracker,” the website says.

What NORAD can’t do is predict just when Rudolph and the rest will pull up to a particular house, but it does say that, historically, Santa shows up between 9 p.m. and midnight, but only when the children of the house are asleep.

Visions of sugarplums are optional, but encouraged.