Santa's Secrets - Revealed!
. . . or what you wish you knew back then so you could shut up that know-it-all, busy-body
who said Santa wasn't real!*
But first . . .
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
Based on the 1902 book by L. Frank Baum, the author of "The Wizard of Oz," and brought
to the television screen in 1985.
|THE SLEIGH||THE BAG||THE SUIT||THE BELT|
|FLYING REINDEER||SANTA & CHIMNEY||ONE NIGHT TRIP?||THE ELVES|
|MULTIPLE SANTAS||CINNAMON BEAR||RUDOLPH||UNCLE MISTLETOE|
Santa's Secrets - Revealed!
THIS SANTA CLAUS GUY APPEARS TO BE PRETTY SECRETIVE about his operations. Along with Mrs. Claus, elves, and a certain reindeer with a glowing, red nose, Santa is reputed to live at the North Pole, an impressive feat since the temperature almost never rises above freezing.
Whether Santa is portrayed in song, verse, books, or on film, everyone seems to agree on his image. He's a large, rather plump, older man with white hair and a long, white beard. Most of the time, he wears his trademark red suit and red stocking cap. His cheeks are almost always a rose-colored hue, and it may not be because he's been drinking too much eggnog. As we mentioned earlier, the weather is very cold in the North Pole, so his skin could become easily chapped.
Because the North Pole isn't the most hospitable place for people to visit, it would be difficult for most people to withstand the harsh weather and rough terrain in order to gain any serious intelligence on Santa. And although no one may ever know for sure just how Santa operates, we at HowStuffWorks* have what we think are the most logical explanations for how the big guy accomplishes all that he does: science and technology.
According to Christmas folklore, Santa's main concern is making toys and distributing them in a timely and orderly fashion to children all over the world. This has garnered him quite a following. After all, children like toys; and Santa gives toys away—therefore, children like Santa Claus.
Santa not only gives toys away, but he does it in style, too. He rides in his very own sleigh led by a team of reindeer, but it isn't just any old sleigh. His is one that flies, and rumor has it that it can make it around the world in just one night. It's also thought by some that Santa doesn't simply pass by your house and leave a few presents on your doorstep. Santa actually lands on top of your roof, climbs down your chimney, and puts presents both in your stockings and around your Christmas tree.
There's a catch to Santa's good will, however. According to the classic Christmas song Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Santa's always watching. "He's making a list; he's checking it twice; he's gonna find out who's naughty or nice." It seems a big part of his job is to keep an eye on your behavior over the course of the year. If you've behaved well, you'll probably get what you want for Christmas. If your behavior was less than satisfactory, however, you risk getting nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking. How does he do this? That’s one of his secrets, but our best guess is that he's using something similar to Google Earth.
As adults we can now look back and realize just how ingenious Santa and his crew really are. The scientific and technological advances we rave about today are ones that have been in use for years at the North Pole. Why I wouldn't be surprised to learn that many of the formulas, inventions, and designs were actually found in someone's stocking over the years. The equipment he relies on to make his annual journey is some seriously innovative stuff:
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IN ADDITION TO BEING OUTFITTED WITH FLYING REINDEER, Santa's sleigh must be a highly advanced flying machine that performs faster and more efficiently than any spaceship currently used by NASA. The vehicle would have to be equipped with a special Antimatter Propulsion Engine that allows Santa to skip from one roof to the next in less than 24 hours and make it home to the North Pole in time for a nap and Christmas dinner.
In case you're not up on things, antimatter is the opposite of regular matter which is the mirror image of normal particles that make up everything we can see or touch. The big draw to antimatter is the amount of energy it creates. When antimatter and matter come into contact, they break apart into tons of smaller particles and result in energy in the amount of 100 percent of their masses.
Although antimatter propulsion rockets are mainly used in science-fiction shows to allow spaceships to travel at warp speed, the possibility of designing one is very real. NASA is currently developing one that would get us to Mars within a matter of weeks.
Santa's Antimatter Propulsion Unit would be way ahead of NASA, however; and we imagine that he has his own custom Stardust Antimatter Rocket. It would be small enough to install in the back of his sleigh and fast enough to deliver presents to all good children across the globe. Of course, if the rocket ever malfunctions, the reindeer would be there as a backup.
Inside the sleigh we'd expect to find a dashboard dominated by Santa's own GPS navigator. The elves would map out millions of destinations before Christmas Eve, just to make sure Santa doesn't miss anyone. The device would also have a built-in Naughty or Nice sensor that keeps Santa updated on children's activities. This is important, as even the most minor of naughty deeds committed within the last few hours of December 24th can determine whether or not a child receives a shiny lump of coal.
A speedometer on the far left of the dashboard would allow Santa to monitor his flying speeds. On the far right would be a radio communicator so that Mrs. Claus can send messages, and the elves can update Santa with weather reports and toy inventory.
For in-flight entertainment, we imagine that the elves would have installed an iPod dock. Santa's iPod would be red-and-green, of course, and come with enough memory to play Christmas songs for the entire year. There would also be a hot cocoa dispenser in the middle of the console, and fuel (carrots) for the reindeer in a compartment located on the left side of the sleigh.
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EVER WONDER HOW SANTA FITS ALL OF THOSE PRESENTS into one bag? Think of a trans-dimensional present compartment in the form of a traditional gift sack, which would act as a portal between the sleigh and the North Pole. However, we'd also like to think that Santa may have harnessed the power of nanotechnology and found a way to miniaturize millions of presents into one large bag. But this information remains unconfirmed.
THE TRADITIONAL RED SUIT SANTA WEARS would have to be a bit more complex than it looks. First, it would be made out of a protective, lead-free material that blocks any radiation from Santa's engine — antimatter rockets produce dangerous gamma radiation so it's important for Santa to keep safe up in the sky.
Second, the suit would also be threaded with carbon nanotubes, allowing the suit to shrink with Santa if he ever changes his size. This is especially useful when confronted with various sized chimneys.
FOR CLIMBING UP AND DOWN CHIMNEYS, Santa would need a little support. We assume he's taken some rock climbing lessons and his belt comes with all the necessary hooks, grapples, bells, and whistles to get him in and out of your living room before you even have a chance to spot him.
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WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THESE MAJESTIC REATURES - aside from their steady diet of carrots - is that these particular reindeer would need wings to properly fly. Paolo Viscardi, a flight physiologist from the University of Leeds in England, suggests that Santa's reindeer would need a 33-foot-long wingspan in order take flight. An extra source of heat from the hot cocoa maker in the dashboard would send out hot air, acting like a thermal unit in a hot-air balloon, giving the reindeer an extra lift that Viscardi recommends for optimal flying conditions.
Based on what we know about reindeer and science, we think that Santa would have to have a huge, state-of-art training facility in order to get reindeer ready for the rigors of flight. A simple, idyllic barn in the middle of the Arctic would make an ideal facility for such activities. It would have enough room to provide fatigued reindeer with a place to sleep as well as contain equipment such as flight simulators, treadmills, and steering practice platforms. Specially trained elves would be on-site to take care of the reindeer and guide them through their training exercises.
This is also where the elves would make any repairs or additions to Santa's sleigh when he needs a little something extra. The runners on the bottom of the sleigh, for example, would need to be examined pretty frequently. Since Santa lands on so many roofs on Christmas Eve, the elves would need to make sure the sleigh's landing equipment can handle a few scratches and dents.
And if Santa should need an immediate Christmas Eve repair, the head elf technician could climb through the trans-dimensional present compartment and fix the sleigh in mid-flight. We'd like to think that Santa has been greatly influenced by NASCAR, and that this procedure works very much like a NASCAR pit-stop.
Without his sleigh, Santa would have a tough time getting airborne the night before Christmas. Fortunately, elves, reindeer and technology could all be available for help, keeping St. Nick as jolly as possible.
Milk and cookies could help, too, of course. So don't forget to put those out.
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ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT QUESTIONS we pondered as children had nothing to do with reindeer flight or the physics of Santa Claus's flight path. It's a practical matter concerning a chimney.
After all, according to Christmas folklore, when Santa drops by your house to deliver your presents, he doesn't knock on your door or break any windows in the process. Instead, after landing on your roof, Santa climbs down the chimney, stuffs your stockings, places gifts under the tree and takes a quick milk-and-cookies break before climbing back up the chimney.
But how does Santa get down your chimney in the first place? Can he even fit into a chimney? Does he drop straight down, or does he use special climbing equipment? And what happens if you don't even have a chimney? Does that mean people without chimneys don't get any presents at all?
Although no one may ever know for sure just how Santa operates, we at HowStuffWorks* have what we think is the most logical explanation for how the big guy might be able to navigate a small space: science, in the form of miniaturization technology. What does this mean? It's actually as simple as it sounds. Santa could use this technology to actually shrink the size of his body.
Michael C. LaBarbera, a professor of organismal biology, anatomy, and geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, believes that reducing the distance between molecular bonds could do the trick. There's a lot of empty space between the nucleus of an atom and the electrons surrounding it so moving everything closer together could potentially decrease the size of an object. The mass of the object stays the same, of course, so that may explain any loud crashes that might come from the fireplace if Santa slipped.
But, what about Santa's suit? If he compresses his body to a small enough size to fit through the chimney, wouldn't the suit just crumple into a pile since it isn't a part of him? Remember, Santa's suit is threaded with carbon nanotubes, allowing the suit to compress as Santa himself compresses so this is a non-issue.
If there's no chimney, of course, he could just open your front door and walk right in - sometimes you have to go low-tech. But a chimney entrance would be preferable since it's the most direct path from the roof to the Christmas tree.
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FOR ALL OF YOU PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO ARE STILL WONDERING how the big guy can make it across the world in one night, take a good look at Star Trek. Although the U.S.S. Enterprise is a fictional spaceship from a fictional television show, the idea of traveling at superluminal speeds, faster than the speed of light, throughout space is a very real concept.
When Einstein discovered, or perhaps found it in his stocking, his famous E = MC² formula, he was saying that mass is energy in a very concentrated form. If you could take matter and convert it into energy, it could create an incredible source of power. Think about it: the C2 in that equation is the speed of light (300,000 miles per second) times the speed of light. Even if you had a tiny bit of mass, the letter M in the equation, the letter E on the other side of that equation can be really big. So how do you make that E big enough to travel around the world in one night? That’s easy: on a sleigh with nine or more reindeer and an Antimatter Propulsion Engine—the same concept NASA is hoping to use to build its own version of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
So that's the whole story about Santa: all you ever wanted to know but were too afraid to ask. You may still be curious, however, about where Santa gets all of these toys. Does he really have elves to help him? Certainly he couldn't make or buy all of that merchandise by himself. Read on for the scoop on elves and the rest of Santa’s special helpers.
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. . . as it turns out, Santa's not the lone wolf catering to the children of the world as some people assumed.*
ACCORDING TO THE WRITTEN RECORD, working hard behind the scenes and under the big guy's shadow are Santa's elves. Typically underappreciated during the holidays, the amount of labor these tiny, creatures produce is pretty astounding. We have to assume that much like Rudolph and his red nose, without the help of the elves, Santa would have a lot more stress leading up to Christmas and wouldn't be nearly as jolly.
Elves are widely regarded as being small in stature, no taller than 3 feet. Another defining characteristic is pointy ears, which we think could help in anticipating repairs on Santa's sleigh. Their proximity to the ground and the pinna, or tissue on the outer ear, both work together to localize sounds - like a screw that becomes loose on a sleigh's runner.
Although elves might have a natural talent for crafting everything from wooden rocking horses to Xbox 360s, we assume that they would still have to attend Elf School. Classes like Woodworking 101, Color Partners, Computer Science and Technology, and Large & Miniature Locomotives 101 would be mandatory. Since technology is always changing, they obviously would need to continue taking classes even after they’ve graduated. For example, once the newest version of the iPod comes out, the elves would need to know the ins and outs well before Santa made his rounds on Christmas Eve.
Santa's elves must also have amazing spatial reasoning which allows them to understand printed directions and put together LEGO structures and doll houses in an instant, which greatly increases their productivity.
Because they're so tiny, elves may not seem too intimidating. But elves would have to be powerful, energy-packed beings in order to fill Santa's quota of gift-making It's possible that these little workers possess a drive and energy even the smallest of Nano-robots couldn't match; so Santa, we believe, will never have to worry about being behind in production.
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WHEN YOU'RE STROLLING THROUGH YOUR LOCAL MALL after Thanksgiving, you might notice Santa Claus in the middle of the mall. There's probably an unbearably long line of children waiting for the chance to talk to Santa and tell him what they want this year for Christmas presents.
Shortly thereafter, you might cross the street to the other local mall and again come across Santa Claus, who looks slightly different from the one you saw before. How can this be, you wonder? Is the mall some kind of portal between parallel universes? Is one the real Santa and the other a fake? Or are they both impostors?
Well first of all, you must realize that these Santas probably don't consider themselves to be fake, and they surely would not appreciate the word impostor attached to them. If anything, you might call them messengers. Like Santa's elves, we believe that the most obvious explanation is that they're an extension of the Santa's Helpers’ Alliance, aka Department Store Santas - or as they are known today, Mall Santas.
Mall Santas must pass a few specifications in order to carry out their seasonal duties. They must be of similar build to Santa Claus, be in the appropriate age range, and must sport an acceptable beard. Mall Santas must also graduate from a special Santa School, where they'll learn to laugh like Santa, eat like Santa, and keep their beard snow-white like Santa.
A Mall Santa's job is simple: he must ask children want they want for Christmas, make sure they've behaved, and send detailed email reports back to Santa Claus. A Mall Santa's work accounts for about 33 percent of all gift requests, making them an important part of Santa's team. The other 67 percent of Christmas wishes are sent directly to the North Pole by mail. During every holiday season nearly 100,000 letters travel to Santa's address at the North Pole.
You may wonder why Santa would need an Alliance of Mall Santas. Well, that’s simple. Even though he might make it around the world in one night, he couldn't possibly be in lots of different places at the same time. We'll have to assume that he's not quite there yet with the technology. For the moment, he has to settle with a complex, but efficient, way of collecting Christmas wish information.
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PATTY O'CINNAMON, aka THE CINNAMON BEAR, first made his presence known on the radio in 1937. In 26 installments, which just happen to be the exact number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, Patty helped twins Judy and Jimmy Barton recover the Silver Star that belonged on top of their Christmas tree. The precious star had been stolen by a cunning character called the Crazyquilt Dragon who had scampered away with it through tiny hole in the wall of the twin’s attic.
Now what? Judy and Jimmy certainly can't fit through a tiny hole in a wall to chase after their prized silver star? Enter, again, science and technology.
The Cinnamon Bear calls the process "to de-grow," but it's just a form of the same miniaturization technology that Santa uses to shrink the size of his body.
Once through the hole and into Maybe Land, the country beyond the attic wall, Antimatter Propulsion Engines are used to track down the clever dragon. They are attached to various forms of transportation: a glass airplane, backs of various animals, and even a pirate ship, among others. Needless to say the twin's adventures in Maybe Land ended successfully, and the Silver Star was brought home in time to take its traditional place on top of the Barton Christmas tree.
It is our firm belief that Judy and Jimmy's troubles were only one of the many pre-Christmas problems that Santa assigned to Paddy O'Cinnamon. It makes infinite sense to believe the Cinnamon Bear's talents have, and will be, used extensively through the years.
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IN 1939 COPYWRITER ROBERT L. MAY OF THE MONTGOMERY WARD COMPANY exposed the identity of Rudolph, the ninth reindeer. In doing so, he also revealed how Santa is able to make his annual trip in any kind of weather. On top of being a skilled flyer, Rudolph’s nose, as his name suggests, glows bright red which allows him to stay the course through snow, rain, heat, and gloom of night. In other words, if the weather's bad on Christmas Eve, Santa's cleared for flight - by the FAA, for that matter - thanks to the brightness of Rudolph's nose.
But how does Rudolph's nose actually work? How could one reindeer create a light that is bright enough to lead a sleigh through darkness and inclement weather? And how could a reindeer actually develop a red nose?
Although no one may ever know for sure just how Rudolph got his unusual nose, we at HowStuffWorks* have what we think is the most logical explanation for how the doe-eyed deer guides Santa's sleigh: science.
Rudolph could use something other organisms use on Earth in order to create natural light: a neat little scientific trick called bioluminescence. Animals can make their own light by mixing certain chemical compounds together to produce a glow. The reasons vary. Fireflies, for instance, flicker light at each other in order to attract mates, and some fish that live deep in the ocean use light to locate prey.
There would be three parts to Rudolph’s nasal beacon. The first part would be just like any other reindeer nose. It inhales oxygen and is made up of two layers. The first layer is the dermis, the thick, inner layer of skin that contains blood vessels and hair follicles; and the other two parts, however, set Rudolph apart from all the other reindeer.
Part two is a thin, enclosed layer of a light-producing organ between the dermis and the epidermis. Inside this layer is luciferin, a light-producing substance, and luciferase, an enzyme that catalyzes the light-producing reaction.
The third part is where the "red-nosed reindeer" tag comes in. Most bioluminescent life forms, like fireflies, produce green light. The outermost part of Rudolph's nose, however, contains a red phosphorescent layer. Once the light-producing organ starts creating light, the phosphorescent part of his nose absorbs the green light and emits a red light.
You might next wonder how Rudolph’s nose can cast such a bright light. Well, bioluminescence often requires another substance, like oxygen, to make light. Rudolph just has to breathe in lots of oxygen near the light-producing organs, and he can produce enough reactions for long, intensely shiny bursts of light.
Due to the huge publicity surrounding this 1939 announcement—and being the subject of a hit song—Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer has become the most famous member of Santa's team. Fortunately the other reindeers do not hold it against him as they would have years ago.
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IN 1946 MARSHALL FIELD & COMPANY “outed” a cherry and chubby Dickensonian character with black bushy eyebrows named Uncle Mistletoe, Santa's Chief Ambassador-at-Large. We doubt Santa was pleased with this development, but they both made the best of it. Uncle Mistletoe continued monitoring children’s behavior and urging them to be kind to others, and Santa continued to rely on his findings.
Uncle Mistletoe always dressed in a bright red great-coat with a long, white aviator's scarf tied around his neck. Upon his head sits a black coachman's top hat embellished with a sprig of mistletoe. To check on the children of the world, Uncle Mistletoe uses of his gauzy, white wings on short flights; but for long distances - like flying from Chicago to London - he uses his fine, red carpet outfitted, of course, with an Antimatter Propulsion Engine.
A couple of years later when Uncle Mistletoe was but 72, he had a slight bout with arthritis that hampered his travel schedule. Mr. Fields, no doubt attempting to make up for his past indiscretion offered to build Uncle Mistletoe a house on his store’s eighth floor - right next to Santa - so he could continue his ambassadorial duties. His wife, Aunt Holly, quickly joined him. Together they made a most handsome couple as they spoke about kindness to the children, and adults too, who waited in line for Santa.
Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly were extremely successful with their Kindness promotion and in the late 1940's and early 50's were asked to star in their own television production. Both Santa and Fields granted them leave. Television allowed they to easily reach thousands of children; and through it, they formed the Kindness Club. To become a member, a child had to write a letter describing an act of kindness he, or she, had performed. Members were rewarded with a Kindness Club button and a copy of the Kindness song. The Kindness Club had 15,000 members by the time the show went off the air.
What happened next, few people know; but we have it on good authority that in Santa’s double secret, scientific laboratory a wondrous tonic was concocted. It completely eased the stiffness and pain of Uncle Mistletoe’s arthritic symptoms; and, to Santa’s joy he was able to resume his duties as Santa’s Chief Ambassador-at-Large.
* How Stuff Works explains thousands of topics, from engines and lock-picking to ESP
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