How did a military institution created to detect Soviet nuclear attacks and retaliate end up with a tradition of tracking Santa every Christmas Eve?

"The NORAD Tracks Santa program began in 1955 after a phone call was made to the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.," the Armed Forces Press Service said. "The call was from a local youngster who dialed a misprinted telephone number in a local newspaper advertisement."

"The commander on duty who answered the phone that night gave the youngster the information requested -- the whereabouts of Santa. This began the tradition of tracking Santa, a tradition that was carried on by NORAD when it was formed in 1958."

There's been too much discussion of Santa this year, and not every one talks to kids the same way, but you've got to admire deadpan like that.

What's supposed to be a charming tradition backfired on the U.S. government this year, in the context of the revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, with journalists turning the Santa tracker into a punch line.

"Idea, via @pbump: NSA tries to soften its public Image by "tracking" Santa's communications! Aww!" The Atlantic's Molly Ball, for instance, tweeted.