The Science Behind Santa

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

This past weekend I was participating in my annual "oh my gosh I better shop soon or people will be able to call me Scrooge" trek through the mall, when I witnessed (once again) one of the most amazing displays of faith known to humankind. Funny thing is, this demonstration of unmitigated assurance had nothing to do with God, the Bible, or church in general. It was at the center of the mall, and it had to do with an aged, portly, and compassionate looking guy in a chair talking to kids and surrounded by hundreds of other children waiting in line for their turn.

Sure, it's really touching to see the little tykes telling their deepest desires to St. Nick, but consider the facts behind the faith:

Around the globe, today, live approximately two billion children (persons under 18). Santa doesn't visit all of them, of course. Subtracting the number of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or Buddhist children reduces Santa's Christmas Eve workload to 15 percent of the total, or 378 million children (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, and presuming that there is at least one good child in each home, Santa must visit about 108 million homes.

Santa has about 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 967.7 visits per second. That means that at each household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, and get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh, and get on to the next house.

For the purposes of our calculations, we will assume that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false). We're talking about a trip of 0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks. To cover that ground in 31 hours, Santa's sleigh moves at 650 miles per second – 3,000 times the speed of sound. By comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.

The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh must carry over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. In air, even granting that the "flying" reindeer could pull 10 times the normal amount, the job can't be done with a mere eight or nine of them - Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

Six hundred thousand tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft reentering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.
Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 miles per second in .001 seconds, would be subjected to centrifugal forces of 17,500 g's. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

(From "Still More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks" by Wayne Rice:
See what I mean? That’s faith! But that's the amazing thing about kids; they don't have to have that all figured out to believe in something that seems impossible. Yet, as soon as they get older and start thinking that they know it all, their childlike faith in Santa gets burned up in their intellectual atmosphere.

In Matthew 19:13-14, we have another scene with children and a display of faith:

“Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Those children didn’t need to have things like the virgin birth and the concept of a God-Man all figured out. They just knew they loved Jesus and could completely trust Him to meet their needs. Hopefully when they grew up, their child - like faith stayed with them through the disappointments and discovery that even though life throws us the unexpected, we can always expect Jesus to welcome us with open arms.

This Christmas season, ask yourself: do I still have the child-like faith that brought me to Christ in the first place? Or has my belief been burned by the surprising and often discouraging twists and turns of life? If that’s the case, take some time during your time off to reflect on the story of a Child who came to earth to save His people from their sins.


Lane Palmer is the Youth Ministries Specialist for Dare 2 Share Ministries in Arvada, Colo., where he works with to provide resources for youth leaders and students. Dare 2 Share exists to energize and equip teens to know, live, share and own their faith in Jesus. For more information on Dare 2 Share Ministries or the GameDay youth conference tour, please visit Send feedback to