Have you ever wondered if it’s possible for Santa to visit every home in a single night? Here’s some of the science behind his work.
He’s looking pretty good for a guy who is over six hundred years old. But it’s not just his age-defying appearance that’s miraculous – on page 31, our Design Guru, Ian Wildsmith, shows just how much Santa has to cram in every Christmas Eve.
No species of reindeer has been recorded in flight. But then, 86% of earth’s organisms still haven’t been fully classified. Admittedly, most of them are insects or microorganisms, but it would be wrong to completely rule out the possibility of discovering flying reindeer. I personally suspect Santa ties a large helium-filled balloon to each one.
There are currently 1.87 billion children under 15 in the world. Assuming Santa only visits families where Christmas is celebrated, which make up 31.59% of the world’s population, he has 590,733,000 children on his list. The average number of children per household is
2.36, so Santa has 250,310,594 houses to visit.
Earth’s total land mass has a surface area of 148,939,063 km2. According to the Global Rural-Urban Mapping Project, urban areas take up 3% of the Earth’s land surface, and scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have worked out that 40% is used
for agriculture. So, if we assume that inhabited land is a combination of agricultural and urban areas, around 43% of Earth’s land surface, or 64,043,797 km2, is populated. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children between the ages of 5 and 12 need between 10 and 11 hours sleep a night. Assuming every child gets 10.5 hours sleep, and Santa starts his journey moving west from the International Date Line, he has 34.5 hours to make his deliveries. To meet this tight schedule he has to travel continuously at 3,669,941 km/hr, or 1,020 km/sec (I’m assuming he has a Present-Launcher, with a precise air-to-stocking guidance system, some kind of mince-pie-and-sherry tractor beam, and probably a toilet built into his sleigh to cut out any stops…) And he must deliver to 2,015 houses every second.
For all the reindeer to still have antlers in late December, they must all be female. Large females weigh in at 120 kg, and can each pull about 240 kg, meaning Santa has overestimated the ability of his 9 beasts, and Rudolph is having a bit of an identity crisis. Santa actually needs an extra
2,479,116 reindeer to pull this year’s presents and sleigh.
For simplicity, let’s assume that the inhabited land is all grouped together, and these 250,310,594 dwellings are distributed evenly over it. This means the average distance Santa has to fly between residences is 506 metres, and so
he travels a total of 126,612,957 km on Christmas Eve.
The average weight of this year’s top 11 toys is 950 grams. If we round this up to 1 kg to include wrapping paper and sticky tape, then Santa is hauling 590,733 metric tonnes (that’s about 98,455.5 male elephants). The average volume of each toy is 8,942 cm3, so if all the toys were cubes, then each side would measure 20.76 cm. His sleigh must have a cubic capacity of 5,282,200 m3 – the equivalent of about 2,112 Olympic-size swimming pools. Assuming Santa built the sleigh out of aircraft grade aluminium, and the walls are 1 cm thick, it would weigh about 4,257 metric tonnes (709.5 elephants to you and me).
If Santa gets a mince pie and a sherry (traditional in the UK) from each household, he piles on a total of 64,830,443,846 calories (the Recommend Daily Allowance is 2,500), at a rate of 521,985 a second, and consumes a total of 250,310,594 units of alcohol (the RDA is 3-4). No wonder he’s so merry.
(Guru encourages responsible drinking. Please don’t try to drink as much as Santa – you’ll die.)