Santa Claus: Fact or Fiction?

Santa has a secret!The next few posts are from a collection of Funny Emails I’ve gathered over many years. They come from a time before email was common—a time long before social media. Back then we didn’t have the vast onslaught of material as there is now. The online world was much smaller, slower. And because the Era of the Image hadn’t arrived, the funny emails were usually just text.

A “pack rat” by nature, I saved those that really tickled my fancy. That was possible (and sensible) then; these days there’s too much to save, and one can count (more or less) on it remaining in place “out there” if you need it again.  (That in itself is an amazing thing: we live in an era of an online, free, permanent information resource.)

I’m starting off with one of my very favorites: an examination of the implications of assuming Santa is real…

Santa Claus: Fact or Fiction?

Santa making toysDoes Santa Claus really exist? And if he does, how does he manage the seemingly impossible task of delivering presents to the world’s Christmas-celebrating good little girls and boys in a single chilly December night?

The question has stirred the imagination and emotions of much of the Earth’s population and calls for an objective analysis.

Santa’s first obstacle is that no known species of reindeer can fly. However, scientists estimate that out of the earth’s roughly 2 million species of living organisms. About 300,000 or so have yet to be classified. So, even though most of these undiscovered species are insects and germs, we can’t rule out the slight possibility that a species of flying reindeer does, in fact, exist. And that no one besides Santa has ever seen one.

Santa+ReindeerA bigger obstacle for Santa is that there are 2 billion children under the age of 18 in the world. Fortunately, Santa needs to deliver presents only to those who have been good. But at an average rate of 3.5 children per household, Santa has back-breaking 91.8 million homes to visit on any Christmas Eve.

Thanks to the rotation of the earth, Santa has 31 hours of Christmas Eve darkness to visit all these homes if he travels from east to west. But, this still works out to 822.6 visits per second! So, for each household, Santa has just over a thousandth of a second to land, hop out of his sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the rest of the presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left out, get back up the chimney, climb back on the sleigh, and take off and fly to the next house.

Santa in flightHow fast is Santa moving? Assuming all 91.8 million stops are spread evenly over the earth’s landmass, Santa must travel 0.79 miles per household—a total trip of 72,522,000 miles. Given the 31-hour time period, Santa’s sleigh must maintain an average speed of 650 miles per second, or more than 3,000 times the speed of sound.

Let’s take a closer look at Santa’s vehicle. First of all, assuming a not overly generous 2 pounds of presents per child, the sleigh must still be able to carry a load of 321,000 tons—and an overweight Santa. On land, a reindeer can’t pull more than 300 pounds of freight, and even assuming that flying reindeer could pull 10 times that amount, Santa’s massive sleigh has to be drawn by 214,200 beasts. Assuming a mean length between harnesses (at 2 abreast) of 6 feet, they would create a chain approximately 121.7 miles long and increase the weight of the overall Santa payload to 353,430 tons.

Santa+SleighAs for Santa, he will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa will be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,375.015 pounds of force (after we deduct his weight).

Now, 350,000 tons of reindeer (and presents) is going to create an enormous amount of air resistance – especially at 650 miles per second. This air resistance will heat the reindeer such that the lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each, causing them to ignite almost instantly, thereby exposing the reindeer behind them to the thermal blast. All 214,200 reindeer will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second!

Santa 3So even though the existence of Santa Claus may seem highly improbable, especially to clever folks like WordPress bloggers, we continue to hold out the hope that Santa is as much as part of reality as we are.

And if Santa does exist, and if he dares to step onto his sleigh and take to the night skies this Christmas Eve, we suspect he’ll have enough of an adventure to last another 364 days.


Now, as cute as that is, I’ve always thought it missed an important point! Santa is magical, so the laws of physics simply don’t apply. Duh!

An aside: This year I got a kick out of the bit about the reindeer being vaporized. It reminded me of this hysterical first article in xkcd author Randall Munroe’s What If series: Relativistic Baseball. (A must read for anyone who is a fan of both physics and baseball!)

This is also the time of year when I can play my Christmas playlists on my iPod!  To play you out, here’s one of my favorites (a modern rock ‘n’ roll classic):

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

7 responses to “Santa Claus: Fact or Fiction?

  • reocochran

    The magic is something I hate to see disappear! I saw a little doubt in my grandson, Skyler’s face, when he was four. He was comparing the Santas he had visited the first 3 years to his fourth one. He said, “They are different, Nana!” And really, I had really tried to take him the first 3 years to the one and the 4th time, ended up he wasn’t there.
    So, then I had to start a new thought rolling around his smart head, “Which one is the REAL Santa and which one is the one taking over while the REAL one is busy?” Now that he is 8, I am pretty sure he knew that there is no Santa but for his little brother’s sake, he went along with the game. I did whisper to him this year, “Don’t forget to believe!” It helps that the Polar Express book gets read around here.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      We never “believed” in Santa Claus at our house (Santa was a “false idol”), so I never had that belief. I’ve always been slightly mystified about how people are so into perpetuating this total lie on kids… kinda weird when you think about it.

      There’s a great Shirley Temple quote about how she stopped believing in Santa Claus when her mom took her to the store to see Santa… and Santa asked for her autograph! 🙂

  • aFrankAngle

    Because you enjoyed my squirrel video, thought I’d visit.

    As a believer in Santa, this is a fabulous set of figures and calculations! Many thanks!

    Thus, a special invite to you to attend my holiday party on the 24th (actually starting in the evening on the 23rd in the US).

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