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On Friday, volunteers answered calls and e-mails in two conference rooms in a building not far from NORAD’s headquarters. In a separate room, a three-member team fired out tweets and Facebook updates, checking against a schedule marked with a secrecy warning that said “Santa’s Eye Only.”

Civilian and military staff wore blue Santa hats with “Special Operations Elf” written on the white trim.

“It is tremendously fun,” said Jim Jenista, NORAD’s deputy chief for joint training exercises, who has been volunteering to answer the phones for nearly a decade.

NORAD insiders drop hints about how they track Santa — “ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras,” radar, satellites and Canadian Forces fighter jets.

But any inquiry into the technological particulars is met with a polite rebuff and a cryptic explanation involving the magic of Christmas.

The NORAD tradition is one of the few modern additions to the centuries-old Santa Claus story that have stuck, said Gerry Bowler, a history professor at the University of Manitoba and the author of “Santa Claus: A Biography.”

Most embellishments never capture the public’s imagination because they tend to be ad campaigns or movies that try to “kidnap” Santa for commercial purposes, Mr. Bowler said.

NORAD, by contrast, takes an essential element of the Santa Claus story — his travels on Christmas Eve — and looks at it through a technological lens, Mr. Bowler said.

“It brought Santa into the 20th century,” he said.

And into the 21st century. NORAD Tracks Santa now has a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and apps for mobile phones, along with a website, www.noradsanta.org, and a phone line, 877-HI-NORAD.

More than 13 million unique visitors went to the website last December. NORAD Tracks Santa had more than 625,000 “likes” on Facebook by Friday and more than 49,000 followers on Twitter.

The phone line is still at the core of NORAD Tracks Santa. Volunteers answer calls in two-hour shifts from 2 a.m. Mountain Standard Time on Christmas Eve until 3 a.m. Christmas Day.

Occasionally an e-mail or phone call pleads for help. A girl from Australia wrote Friday to ask if Santa could help doctors cure her younger brother’s cancer, adding that she feared he might not live until next Christmas.

Those requests are handled “with as much hope and optimism as we can,” said Mr. Graybeal, the deputy chief of staff for communications. “We promise to pass on these e-mails to Santa.”

NORAD’s brass, including Gen. Duval and the commander, U.S. Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., did nearly back-to-back broadcast interviews on Friday morning, most of them on TV.

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