A holiday-related question has been plaguing me lately. And if you’ve been reading my columns for a little while, you know when an absurd question grabs hold of my brain, I have to sort it out, no matter how much time it takes me.
We all know that Santa Claus is a magical, elder being who somehow makes his way to every home in the world to leave gifts for all the children (and some of the adults) who have been good this year, making his annual run every Christmas Eve. The question is not so much how he does it, because we’ve established it’s nothing short of Christmas magic. The question is how powerful is Santa’s magic that he’s able to accomplish this in a single night?
By Dec. 24, there are eight hours and 11 minutes of daylight; coming just off the winter solstice, it’s not a surprise the day is relatively short. This leaves 15 hours and 49 minutes of time between sunset and dawn of Christmas Day, per hemisphere. In that time, Santa, propelled only by his airborne, nine-horsepower (more accurately, reindeer-power) sleigh, must deliver gifts to approximately 2.3 billion homes, assuming each one has at least one person on the nice list. He must then consume his traditional cookies and milk and make a swift exit, preferably without being seen.
Assuming he leaves the North Pole at sundown, Santa has 1,085,880 seconds to do his three-task routine 2.6 billion times. This means he has approximately 0.0004 second per house. The planet is approximately 25 million square miles, which means if Santa were to accomplish his trip in a single night, using the cover of night at about 31 hours and 38 minutes for both hemispheres, he would be traveling at approximately 793,650 mph (1,277,255 km/h).
This is more than 100 times the speed of sound but woefully short of the speed of light. This also explains why Santa is so hard to spot with the untrained eye; far before our visual cortex catches up to what’s happening in front of us, he’s on to the next house.
After you’re done blinking, let’s consider the cookies and milk. Let’s say the average cookies and milk platter is about 350 calories. That would be about two frosted cookies and an eight-ounce glass of 1 per cent milk. For the sake of argument, let’s cap the amount of calories a person could eat in a day about 3,500. I realize that’s way over what is required to survive and could easily lead to weight gain if this becomes a habit. However, assuming the average person can handle 3,500 calories, this means they could only visit 10 houses before they were tapped out.
Santa, as we’ve established, is no mortal, for he consumes a mighty 910 billion calories per Christmas Eve. Given the speed at which he travels, it wouldn’t be hard to believe he burns through that many calories in a night. In fact, for all we know, he could be rail thin by the end of the night, spending the rest of the year gaining his “bowl full of jelly” stomach back, bulking up for his next Christmas Eve run.
I realize this column leaves a lot of questions still unanswered. How does Santa make all his toys? If Santa is so fast, how do Santa Trackers work? If he built enough speed, could Santa slip the surly bonds of earth to visit planets beyond, and would he be back in time for next Christmas?
One of the best parts about legendary figures is the questions we cannot answer; even my own answers could fall short of what reality is. One thing is for sure, though. Christmas inspires us to be better to each other, to love our neighbours as ourselves. As powerful as might Mr. Claus can be, the more important takeaway to the cheer and charity the most wonderful time of the year inspires can move mountains.
Merry Christmas, Agassiz-Harrison.