This week I saw the movie “The Santa Clause,” starring Tim Allen, for the first time. Some may find it hard to believe that, although the movie came out almost 27 years ago in 1994, I had never seen it. I’m not sure why. I suppose I’ve been waiting for the book to come out.

The movie is centered around Tim Allen’s character, a divorced father who surprises Santa on Christmas Eve. The surprised Santa falls off the roof and is either severely injured or dead. Either way his body disappears, leaving only the suit behind. Long story short, Allen’s character does what any red-blooded divorced Dad would do after whacking Santa on Christmas Eve, he puts on his suit. That action alone makes him the new Santa Clause.  

It is a feel-good romp for the entire family. 

The movie completely glosses over several key areas. It fails to address Santa’s total failure to utilize proper safety strapping while traversing slippery roofs. There is no investigation into the accident, and it is unclear if the old Santa actually died or just retired on disability and moved to Florida to do stupid crap (a nod to my belief regarding the origin of the fabled “Florida Man” – but that is a story for another day). And was the event logged on an OSHA form 300, and if a death, properly reported to federal authorities? It is also unclear as to what state would have jurisdiction over the accident. The movie doesn’t overtly tell viewers where this took place, but all the license plates of the various vehicles are from Illinois. That could mean that Santa’s insurance company, whoever it is, is screwed.

No wonder the movie glossed the whole thing over. Easier to pretend it never happened.

There are other, real life incidences of danger to Santa present in the course and scope of his position. Just last week, a Santa Clause in California attempting to fly an ultralight aircraft in to surprise a group of kiddies experienced engine trouble and hit a collection of power lines. Good thing it was California. Any other state and there would have been power in those lines. That would have been quite the fireworks show for the kiddies below. As it were, he simply had to dangle there until the fire department could stop laughing long enough to cut him down. 

In Australia last year a mall Santa was injured in a crush of shoppers stampeding to get free prizes that were being tossed out to the crowd. I wasn’t there, but that sounds a lot like the WKRP Thanksgiving Day Turkey Drop so competently narrated by Les Nesman many years ago. 

But the true workplace dangers for Santa (beyond the psychological threat from being cooped up in a frozen wasteland with a bunch of elves 364 days a year) is the delivery of all those gifts on Christmas Eve. An unknown engineer drew up a very succinct analysis of this process, titled “Santa Clause: An Engineers Perspective” many years ago. It gives you an excellent picture of just what a challenge that night can be for the jolly old man.

He wrote:

There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist (except maybe in Japan) religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the population reference bureau).

At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in each.

Different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical), this works out to 967.7 visits per second.

This is to say that for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh and get on to the next house.

Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks.

This means Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest manmade vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.

The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the “flying” reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job can’t be done with eight or even nine of them. Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).

600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft reentering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake.

The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.

Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accelerating from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in .001 seconds, would be subjected to acceleration forces of 17,500 g’s. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

Sadly, he concludes with, “Therefore, even if Santa did exist, he’s dead now.”

While it certainly draws a pessimistic outcome for Saint Nick, it does give you an idea of the challenges an actuary would have in assessing the risk of underwriting Santa’s operation. One thing is for sure, if you end up with Santa’s injury report on your Adjustor’s desk, you want to be very careful in the way you handle it. There probably is no faster way to get on the naughty list than by denying that claim.

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