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First lady helps track Santa for NORAD

NORAD gets some assistance tracking Santa Claus — and the defense agency needed it, with a record number of calls from anxious children.
First Lady Michelle Obama talks to a child Saturday as part of the annual NORAD Tracks Santa program. Mrs. Obama answered the phone calls from Kailua, Hawaii.
First Lady Michelle Obama talks to a child Saturday as part of the annual NORAD Tracks Santa program. Mrs. Obama answered the phone calls from Kailua, Hawaii.Pete Souze / White House flickr
/ Source: NBC News and news services

First lady Michelle Obama got into the Christmas spirit Saturday by helping NORAD to track Santa Claus — and the defense agency needed the help, with a record number of calls from anxious children.

Volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado had fielded more than 80,000 calls Saturday evening, breaking the previous record. Also, Santa's NORAD Facebook page approached 980,000 "likes." Last year, Santa had 716,000 "likes."

NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has been telling children about Santa's whereabouts every year since 1955. That was the year a Colorado Springs newspaper ad invited kids to call Santa on a hotline, but the number had a typo, and dozens of kids wound up talking to the Continental Aerospace Defense Command, 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 the North American skies and seas from a control center at Peterson.

Santa's first stop in the U.S. came at 9:02 p.m. MST in Atlanta, said Canadian Navy Lt. Al Blondin.

Mrs. Obama answered several calls in Kailua, Hawaii, from children who wanted to know how close Santa was to their homes.

A White House transcript contained details of several calls.

Mrs. Obama told a girl named Summer that Santa was over Finland.

"And I can see a glowing light, and it looks like, from the satellite, that he's got all nine reindeer with him, and it looks like his sleigh is pretty full," she told Summer. "It looks like a full sleigh of toys. So I hope you've been good this year. Summer, have you been?"

Summer responded that she was good, and that she wanted a Clawdeen Monster High Doll with a pair of shoes.

The first lady told Summer that Santa "only comes to your house after he knows you're asleep. So no matter where he is in the world, you've got to be asleep."

Kaelyn Brayden asked the first lady "how many fireplaces do you guys have in the White House?"

Mrs. Obama didn't have an exact count.

"There's almost a fireplace in every single room, and there are dozens and dozens of rooms," she told the caller. However, she said, Santa usually comes down the White House's Yellow Oval Room fireplace.

"Yeah, that's where we put our Santa tree," the first lady explained. "And he usually comes down that one, and that's where Malia and Sasha get their gifts."

The first family is spending the holidays in Hawaii and otherwise spent a low-key Christmas Eve out of the spotlight.

President Barack Obama spent his first morning in Hawaii at the multimillion-dollar vacation home his family rents in the Kailua Beach area, near Honolulu. He skipped his standard early morning gym workout and headed to the golf course later Saturday.

The Obamas were to spend Christmas Eve at home with a close circle of family and friends that typically joins the president for his annual Hawaiian vacation. They include Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who lives in the state with her family, and several friends the president has known since high school.

The president's annual December trip to the state where he was born and mostly raised almost didn't happen. He had planned to arrive in Hawaii on Dec. 17, but delayed his departure while Congress worked its way through a stalemate over extending payroll tax cuts.

A deal was finalized Friday morning. Hours later, the president boarded Air Force One for Hawaii to meet his wife and daughters, who traveled ahead of him.

Obama's first order of business when he arrived was taking his wife out to dinner. The couple joined a few friends at Morimoto restaurant, one of their favorite dining spots on the island of Oahu.

The president has no public events planned in Hawaii. A small group of advisers accompanied him to brief him on domestic and international developments.

The Obamas are expected to return to Washington shortly after New Year's Day.

This article includes reporting by NBC News and The Associated Press.