What happens when engineers think too much about Christmas

One of my professors at Tulane shared this analysis with my class a few years ago, and now I like to share it with everyone every year.  Merry Christmas!


First off, no known species of reindeer can fly. But there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely rule out flying reindeer, which only Santa has seen.

There are 2 billion children (under 18 years old) in the world. But Santa only appears to handle Christian children, so that reduces the work load to 15% of the total, or about 378 million. At an average of 3.5 children per household, that’s 91.8 million homes. One presumes there’s at least one good child in each home.

Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to times zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west. This works out to 822.6 visits per second. For each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1.2 milliseconds to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the gifts under the tree, eat the snacks, get back up the chimney, and get to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million homes are distributed evenly (which we know to be false, but for the sake of these calculations we will accept) we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops. This means that Santa’s sleigh is traveling at 650 miles per second, 3200 times the speed of sound. For comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second; the average classified reindeer runs at 15 miles per hour.

The sleigh’s payload 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 always described as overweight. On land, a classified reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that flying reindeer (see point one) could pull TEN TIMES the usual amount, we could not do the job with 8 or 9 reindeer; we need 214,000 reindeer. This increases the weight, still not counting the sleigh, to 353,430 tons. This is about 4 times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth 2.

That weight, 353,430 tons, traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This will heat the reindeer in the same manner as a spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.2 QUINTILLION joules of energy…per second…each. In short, they will burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the next pair of reindeer, and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa meanwhile will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500 times the force of gravity. A 300 pound Santa would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 43,215,015 pounds of force.




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