December 25th, 2010

Red Sleigh Flying

I realize, Cherished Reader, that I have been neglecting you and this blog. Please forgive me, I have no excuse but for the ordinary slings and arrows that assault us all. I blink, and the year has passed me by.

It is Christmas day as I write this, and it is come so fast I have barely got in under the wire to get presents and cards and all the necessary functions of party-making in the Yuletide season. When I was a kid, I remember Christmas took *forever* to get here, and Christmas night was the longest night of the year -- which, by the way, it almost is, due to its proximity to winter solstice, but that's not what I  mean.

When we were children and looked at the world with young and inexperienced eyes, cherished times of our youth (birthdays, Christmas, family trips, summer vacation) took ages to arrive and lasted forever. As we get older, we lose this timeline.

But its existence has solved, for me, a mystery: How does Santa Claus deliver all his presents in one night?

That Santa Claus is real is beyond all doubt. His name is Nicholas of Myra and he was a bishop in 4th-century Turkey (look it up if you don't believe me). However, how a man in a sled pulled by caribou can visit every home in a single night and deliver presents to the homes of good boys and girls? Please attend, Cherished Reader, as this mystery is now solved.

Firstly, let's define the job. One man in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer delivers gifts to every house in a single night. Advantages: Firstly, Saint Nicholas does his deliveries near winter solstice, one of the longest nights of the year. Secondly, by moving from East to West, he can take advantage of the Earth's rotation and move ahead of the terminator (the day/night boundary, not the killer robot from the future). Thirdly, less than one third of the world's population is Christian; he doesn't have to visit Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu, Baha'i, or Scientologist families. That means there are huge chunks of Asia, Africa, and Los Angeles that he can simply skip. So figure that leaves about two billion people, given that many live together, an average of two parents and 2.4 children per family, that's 5.4 people per household... carry the one... roughly 370 million homes in one light, about five or six presents each.

Now the average reindeer can run at a top speed of 40 miles an hour (flying reindeer were not listed in the zoology text I checked), and the Earth's circumference is about 25,000 miles, so a team of eight reindeer can circumnavigate the globe in approximately 625 hours, or a little more than 26 days, at a straight run. Obviously the route would be longer since he has to zig-zag to each home. Also, this doesn't account for stops, reindeer bathroom breaks, and the time it takes for St. Nick to disable the home security alarms and break into a modern household, leave the presents, drink the cocoa, and kiss Mommy underneath the mistletoe. Now here's the problem; taking all that into account, event at only five minutes per house, 26-day plus travel time, we are still looking at over 31 million man-hours of work time.

Can't be done, right? Wrong, Cherished Reader! Albert Einstein to the rescue! In 1905, Albert Einstein posited his theory of Relativity, which states, among other things, that time is not absolute, but relative based on the point of view of the observer. So for an observer in a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light, time will run far slower than time for an observer in a relatively stationary point of reference. This is known as time dilation and is a real, observable scientific phenomenon.

Now if, for purposes of relativistic time dilation, the point of reference is a small child waiting for Christmas to arrive, then that leaves more than enough time for Santa Claus to visit every household in a single night, a night that takes forever to come for the little kids who wait for it.
QED. You're welcome.

So allow me to adjure all of you who may read this to keep at least a small sense of wonder we had when we were young, so that the generations to come will know the joy of Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Cherished Reader. Merry Christmas.