Do you believe in Santa?

Is there a Santa Clause? The statistical evidence and physics analysis are not compelling.

1. No known species of reindeer can fly. There are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, however, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer...which only Santa has seen, incidentally.

2. There are 2 billion children (persons under the age of 18) in the world. But since Santa doesn't appear to handle most Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total - 378 million, according to the Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, which is quite low by Third World standards, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there is at least one good child in each.

3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that fro each household with good children that he visits, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to:

Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about ..78 miles between households, or a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and watering the reindeer, etc. We will overlook the need to return to the North Pole to reload the sleigh. This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Magellan space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour for short periods of time.

4. The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting the "flying reindeer" (see point #1 above) could pull TEN TIMES the normal amount, one could not do the job with eight, or even nine.

One would need 214,000 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparative purposes, this is over three times the fully loaded combat weight of a modern aircraft carrier, surely exceeding most building code specs for residential house roofs, at least in the United States.

5. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft reentering the Earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second...each.

In short, they will burst into flames almost instantly, exposing the reindeer behind them, in turn, to the same heating. The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second.

6. The sleigh, owing to its mass, non-aerodynamic form and speed, would create a devastating sonic boom, making sleep by all the good little boys and girls on Christmas eve virtually out of the question(although this may explain why so few children really DO sleep on Christmas eve). Santa, meanwhile, would be subjected to acceleration forces 17,500.06 times the force of gravity (for comparison, an experienced tactical jet pilot can sustain approximately 9 "g's" before becoming incapacitated). A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

Conclusion: A fairly liberal statistical analysis of the physical aspects of the problems associated with the method of operation attributed to Santa Claus' Christmas present delivery drill every Christmas eve leads one to conclude that either:

I opt for the latter.

Have a Merry Christmas and don't tell the kids.

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Last modified: January 12, 1997