With only two nights until the big day, we should talk about the science of Christmas. Have you ever wondered how much energy your Christmas lights use, or how fast Father Christmas must travel to get to every house on Earth? Here we’ll address these Christmas queries and so much more…
Let’s start with the most important science of all, how on Earth does Father Christmas travel all around the world to every good boy or girl in just one night? After spending a full year making toys and writing his naughty and nice lists, Santa Claus must embark on a mammoth task. To maximise the available night time and avoid being caught by any children, he travels from East to West giving him 32 hours to cover the entire Globe. Making some big assumptions now, but assuming he only visits children and those who are Christian, Santa has to (roughly) visit 233,000,000 houses across the planet’s surface area of ~510,000,000km. To cover all of this in 32 hours, he will need to travel at 1,800m/s, without toilet breaks or stopping for those mince pies! To put that figure into context, he will travel ~1% the speed of light; blink and you’ll miss him. The fastest man-made object is the Juno satellite which orbits Jupiter, hurtling around the gas giant at 73,611m/s. Santa has done well to find such fast reindeer!
We’ve all seen that Father Christmas nibbles at the mince pies and reindeer munch on carrots so he must have time for a quick stop, but how much weight must he gain in that single night? Assuming the average mince pie is 250kcal and he has one in every house he visits, he should consume over 58 billion calories in just one night…no wonder he’s a bit portly. Therefore, Father Christmas must weigh quite a bit (especially by the end of the night), but how much does his sleigh weigh? If Santa provides just one present for every child, weighing ~500g each, this would total 116,500 tonnes. I feel sorry for the mere 8 reindeer having to pull that, no wonder they only do it once a year!
Once Father Christmas has made this mammoth journey and his busiest night is over for yet another year, what about rest of the science of Christmas? Are there evolutionary reasons for giving gifts? Usually, animal species are quite selfish, we’ve evolved that way; self-preservation etc. So why do we and other species give gifts? Across many species, gift giving is seen as a way to strengthen bonds between family members, or males give females gifts to boost their reproductive chances. We as a species are unique though, helping others who we do not expect to reciprocate the gesture. Professor Martin Nowark from Harvard University suggests that this is still an evolutionary trait, whereby we hope that by helping someone else, we will be helped in the future when we require it.
One last fun fact: the mystery of Christmas lights. It is scientifically proven that Christmas lights want to tangle. Physicists have shown that any cord longer than 2m will be mathematically more likely to tangle that not, due to entropy. It’s all about disorder. There are infinite ways in which your fairy lights can get tangled but only one way they can be untangled. Therefore the probability of the lights being tangled is infinitely higher than them being untangled. Sorry, it’s physics. According to Which?, your fairy lights should only cost you ~£8.94 extra to run for the month, so don’t hate them too much.
This website (LINK) is amazing for Christmas science for kids. It explains how Santa travels so fast, how he doesn’t get lost enroute and much more! Of course here is the LINK to the Google Father Christmas tracker too, ready for Christmas Eve, but it also has games and other educational activities to explore. Enjoy the festive period, spend time with loved ones, and help those in need. From AShortScientist to you, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas wherever you are in the World and thank you for all your support. Keep learning!