The Duck of Minerva

Science of Santa

17 December 2014

The following is a guest post by Tenacity Murdie, age 12.  

Dear Readers,

Every year on Christmas Eve, Santa, a fat and happy man, takes off in a sleigh full of presents to go deliver gifts to the good boys and girls. We spend millions of dollars in preparation for Santa, but is this reasonable, or are we just throwing our money down the drain? Although many think that it is possible for Santa to travel the world in less than 31 hours (not 24 since we have time zones)[2] and successfully deliver presents to millions of children without violating any laws of physics, it’s just not possible. If Santa were to do this, he would be breaking multiple laws of physics. Some examples are: there are no known reindeer species that can fly, the actual Santa (St. Nick) is long dead, and, most importantly, there is not enough time for Santa to get to all the houses in one day. Let me explain.

Scientists have no evidence at all saying that flying reindeer exist, we have not seen one or gotten physical evidence of any kind. And, in all the pictures that we see of Santa’s reindeer, they are just floating in the air. They simply have no wings or extra flaps of skin of  any kind (if they were like other animals, it would be logical for them to have some in order to be able to fly). That means that if the reindeer were to exist, they would have to fly some other way. The only other way that the reindeer could fly would be to use magic, but none of the sort exists, leaving no explanation for the reindeer or how they would be able to fly if they did exist.

We talked about the reindeer but now lets talk about the actual person behind this conundrum. Santa, also known as, Saint Nicholas, was born “…280 years after Christ”[1], was a Greek bishop, and lived until he was in his 60’s. St. Nick could have given out presents while he was alive, I don’t doubt that, but now, 1,700 years after his death, it is very unlikely. No known human can live that long, roughly 2,000 years. St. Nick had no known children or even a spouse which rules out the possibility of people following the family business. Since dead bodies can’t resurrect and ghosts/spirits don’t exist, there is no logical way that Santa (or his dead body) would be able to continue delivering presents in this day and age.

If Santa was able to deliver presents in some “magical” way, he still wouldn’t be able to do it, there is simply not enough time to get to all the good boys and girls. The number of children that Santa has to visit is “378 million according to Population Reference Bureau.”[2] With about 100 million homes to visit, “This works out to 822.6 visits per second.”[2] According to this information, that means that “Santa has less than 1/1000th of a second…”[2] to land on your roof, climb down the chimney, etc.

However, as I said before, many people think that Santa does not violate any laws of physics. In order for me to prove that this is not the case, we need to just imagine some things for a second. Say there are flying reindeer and Santa managed to continue his business of handing out presents to all the children in the amount of time he has, there still comes the problem of actually flying from house to house. In order to fly from house to house in less than 31 hours, “Santa’s sleigh is moving 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound.”[2] With the estimated weight of Santa’s sleigh (353,430 tons)[2] and how fast he is going, that means that there is going to be a LOT of friction. Because of that, all of the reindeer “will be vaporized in 4.26 thousandths of a second.”[2] And if Santa doesn’t vaporize after all his reindeer do, he is probably going to fall out of the sky and crash land down on Earth.

So, if Santa was able to do all of this and successfully deliver all of the presents, he would be breaking multiple laws of physics. Although, we still have the question of who is leaving the presents under the Christmas tree, but I can tell you one thing, it isn’t Santa.



Tenacity Murdie, age 12


[1] St. Nicholas to Santa: The Surprising Origins of Mr. Claus

[2] The Physics of Santa Claus