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Extreme Santa Claus - millions of home visits, billions of calories

Every year, a somewhat outdated man with a white beard and red robe leaves his home in the Arctic and accomplishes impossible things. Between the sunset of Christmas Eve and the first rays of sun on Christmas morning, he flies all over the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and gives presents to all the children who believe in him.

Some may doubt he accomplishes this mammoth task in just one night. However, science can provide the answer to this mystery. Assuming that Santa Claus begins his journey in Australia and continues westwards across the globe to Hawaii, he has about 31 hours left for his mission thanks to the different time zones and the international date line.

The astrophysicist Ethan Siegel estimated in 2015 that Santa Claus would have visited about 500 million households during this time. Based on this, he calculated that Santa Claus’ sleigh had to travel at a speed of about 10,000 km / h and only needed 223 microseconds for each home visit. At the same time, he provides plausible physical explanations of how Santa Claus can accomplish this unimaginable task. Not only Siegel but also other authors have dealt with Santa’s skills in the past and brought different theories to the Christmas table. In addition to superior technology, they postulated magic or a large number of invisible helpers.

Even though the "how" has not yet been completely clarified, it remains a fact that every year he succeeds to reliably deliver all presents on time under the Christmas tree.

Researchers at the New York Medical College in Valhalla investigated a completely different issue. They examined how many calories Santa Claus would have to actually consume on his journey. Traditionally, families leave a small gift in the form of biscuits and a glass of milk for Santa, especially in the USA. The authors of the study estimated that about 36 million of the approximately 180 million households in the US provide Santa a Christmas snack. Assuming this snack consists of three biscuits and a glass of milk on average, Santa Claus is offered a snack of about 275 kcal or 1150 kJ during each house visited.

If Santa is a polite guest and does not reject a single snack, after the last home visit he would have consumed an estimated 9.9 billion calories and exceeded his daily energy requirements by more than three million times. Of course, even if the delivery of gifts and the constant dismounting and climbing of chimneys is quite a sweaty affair, at the end of the day an enormously positive energy balance should be recorded.

This should theoretically cover Santa’s energy needs well beyond the next Christmas.

Whether Santa's scales after the holidays display one or more additional pounds, as it does for us ordinary folks, will remain a mystery. Crucially, however, he miraculously manages to keep his weight stable and deliver the gifts on time each year.

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