Santa Science: The Straight Facts on Father Christmas

How many "milk challenges" does Santa drink? Would the speed of his nightly travels liquefy jolly Old St. Nick in his seat? Greatist took a (very) light-hearted look at some of the science behind Santa.
Santa Science: The Straight Facts on Father Christmas

Photo by Roadsidepictures

'Twas the night before the Christmas, when all through the house, all the creatures were wondering: "How the heck can Santa eat so many cookies without exploding?"

Greatist has always made sure to provide only the best and most accurate information and we're proud to say that Santa Claus is definitely, absolutely, not really sure, probably, real. But if Jolly Old St. Nick is real, we have a lot of scientific questions that need answering, such as, "How can a human being drink all that milk?" and "Would the G-force of traveling at such high speed crush a normal human's body?" Never fear, the answer to many of these questions is "Santa is magic so it just happens," but Greatist isn't happy to just gloss over the science.

Without any more fuss, we bring you Santa Science: a look into the real facts of Christmas.

Santa Science

Fundamental Stats

  • A study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life found that around the world, approximately 2.2 billion people identified as Christian in 2010.
  • Every country in the world leaves Santa different kinds of food and drink. In fact, it's just the U.S. and Canada that stick to the milk and cookies combo. But, for the sake of math (and because we can't knock on every door to see what's waiting for Santa) we'll assume all 2.2 billion people stick to this classic treat. Santa's gotta eat something at every door, doesn't he!
  • Santa has approximately 36 hours to deliver all his presents (starting at sundown at the International Date line and heading west).
  • Santa is also made of magic, so take everything here with a grain of salt.

The Straight Facts on Santa

Photo by wolfsavard

Can Santa really stomach all the milk he drinks at every house?

Oh, definitely not. Assuming a standard glass of milk is 8 fluid ounces, that means Santa drinks about 137 million gallons of milk over the night, or about 4 million gallons of milk every hour. For anyone who has seen a "milk challenge" — where someone tries to drink one gallon of milk in one hour without vomiting — the odds are pretty low Santa will keep it all down. A human stomach can hold two to four liters of liquid (estimates vary), but if anyone can pull it off, it's Santa. Assuming the good boys and girls in the U.K. stick to tradition and leave a glass of sherry, Santa would be able to skip 4.2 million glasses of milk. He would, however, be drinking 1.3 million bottles of Sherry wine in an hour. So yeah, that'd be alcohol poisoning.

Will Santa go into a sugar coma from eating so many sweets?

Definitely. If Santa were a person, he'd have late-onset diabetes by the third hour. Assuming each household in the whole world leaves out two chocolate chip cookies (we're using Pillsbury ready-bakes. Hey, it's the holidays), that means at every house he would stack up 170 calories, 14g of sugar, and 8g of fat. In total, that'd be 374 billion calories, 33,000 tons of sugar, and 151,000 tons of fat.

How long would it take Santa to work off the calories just from those cookies?

Assuming Santa's running an 8-minute mile, he'd have to run for about 109 centuries (or 109,000 years in a row, without eating) to burn off those calories.

How fast does Santa need to travel to deliver all his presents?

Let's just assume Santa's going to travel in a straight line, because my brain can't physically figure out the math on his route. A straight line around the equator is about 25,000 miles. Not counting the Earth's rotation or relative elevation (Santa is flying, after all), Santa and his reindeer would be traveling at 694 mph. To actually cover the entire population, Santa would be travelling somewhere above Mach 2. One site estimated that the force of air friction at that speed would heat up the reindeer much like a shuttle re-entering the atmosphere, igniting them immediately. Santa, on the other hand, would get hit with more than 17,000 gs (the force of gravity per unit mass), or more than 4 million pounds of force. Even the most optimistic estimates say that 100 gs (or even as low as 6 gs) of sustained force would probably kill a person. But Santa is magic and therefore not dead. It's okay, kids!

Photo by Onion

How did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer get his red nose?

A real, live researcher decided to tackle just this topic. Turns out the answer is an abundance of red cells in the nasal microvasculature (re: nose). Adult reindeer actual have concentrations of nasal mucosa, which is rich in red cells and helps protect against cold weather. Rudolph must have an over-developed concentration, giving him a nose that "is red and well adapted to carrying out his duties in extreme temperature" said a real, legitimate, not ironic study in the journal BMJ. Red bioluminescence (the production of light by a living organism) has also been recorded in deep sea creatures such as the Black Dragonfish, though that is definitely not something I want in front of Santa's sleigh.

How much weight is Santa slogging around with him?

Two quick assumptions. Let's pretend all 2.2 billion people a) have been "nice" and b) that they all want an action figure, like this Batman figure from Amazon. At a weight of 7.2 ounces, that means Santa's sleigh would be hauling 500,000 tons of toys. Good thing they didn't wish for a Holiday Wishes Barbie, which would up the total to nearly 700,000 tons. Let's hope no one's asking for a juicer this year.

It must get hot under all that fur, right?

Santa stays up for 36 hours in a row all while grunting and sweating around in the same heavy red coat. While winter is the universal season of Christmas, sometimes winter can be a little warmer for the good girls and boys around the world. In his journeys, Santa goes through some extremes of weather. Temperatures have hit below -50 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of Russia in December. On the flip side, temperatures in Dubai, UAE, are consistently around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. And we thought loading presents was hard enough.

The Santa Clause

Photo by hojoanaheim

Spontaneously-combusting reindeer, milk challenges, alcohol poisoning, diabetic comas, and breaking the speed of sound are all in a (long) night's work for Santa Claus. If Santa were human, well, he'd be in for a really rough night. But the good news is that Kris Kringle is old-hat at this stuff. So kids (and adults), don't worry. Just maybe leave the Christmas magic to the pros.

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