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Daily Archives: 27. December 2018 − News & Stories


Why San­ta Claus’ rein­de­er come from Spits­ber­gen. And why this can’t be true.

Christ­mas is a time of love, fami­ly and healt­hy food. Pres­ents, trees and… mys­te­ry. Or do you know how San­ta Claus mana­ges to visit far more than a bil­li­on child­ren around the glo­be? Even if you take tho­se out who have been naugh­ty or who may­be don’t want (or are not allo­wed to) have anything to do with Christ­mas – the­re is still a lot of work to do for the old man.

Sharon Geor­ge of the Kee­le Uni­ver­si­ty in Eng­land has done some sci­ence to find ans­wers to such ques­ti­ons. She pro­po­ses that San­ta Claus pulls some quan­tum phy­sics tricks out of his bag. Just Quan­tum tun­nel­ling alo­ne may redu­ce the distance he has to tra­vel by some­thing near 50 %.

Do I hear you shout “yes, of cour­se, I should have known”?

But still, Father Christ­mas has to make his way at a bre­akneck speed of 15,625 kilo­me­tres per hour (9,708 mph), to get ever­ything done that is on his impres­si­ve to-do list. Accord­ing to Geor­ge, he makes good use of bund­ling the shock waves of the thun­der that comes from brea­king through the sonic wall. Some­thing hap­pens short­ly after some initi­al scratching of the snow with the hoo­ves by the rein­de­er, as they have to be 10 times fas­ter than sound to get things done.

It is safe to assu­me that the sledge is made of some nickel-tita­ni­um alloy to sur­vi­ve the mecha­ni­cal chal­len­ges that come with such tra­vel­ling. Fric­tion bet­ween air and the nose of the very first rein­de­er will heat the lat­ter up until it is glowing red-hot, a fact that rea­di­ly exp­lains some ana­to­mic par­ti­cu­lars of Rudolf the red-nosed rein­de­er.

Arctic Christmas

Mer­ry Christ­mas! Drawing by Nor­bert Wach­ter from the book Ark­ti­sche Weih­nach­ten.

So far, so good. But then the sci­en­tist makes a mista­ke as she says that San­ta Claus’ rein­de­er, inclu­ding the famous, abo­ve-men­tio­ned Rudolf, come from Spits­ber­gen. She argues that only the Spits­ber­gen rein­de­er is small and leight­weight enough so it can wait on the roof of any house while the boss is kree­ping down the chim­ney to get his job done. Any other – hea­vier – rein­de­er would just break through the roof, some­thing that might bring the sche­du­le of the who­le ope­ra­ti­on into some serious trou­ble.

As plau­si­ble as this may seem – it can’t be true. Why? This is some­thing that the pre­sent aut­hor has dis­cus­sed in his book “Ark­ti­sche Weih­nach­ten” (Ger­man only, sor­ry!). The rele­vant text sec­tion comes at the end of the book and it is agail­ab­le here (click to down­load).

Just in case you don’t read Ger­man: reflect for a moment about when male rein­de­er shed their ant­lers. Yes, it’s after the mating sea­son, which is in late Sep­tem­ber and into Octo­ber. This means that male rein­de­er from the nort­hern hemi­s­phe­re don’t have big ant­lers at Christ­mas. Rudolf and his col­leagues have to come from the sou­thern hemi­s­phe­re!

Whe­re would that be? Well, the wha­lers intro­du­ced Nor­we­gi­an rein­de­er to South Geor­gia. But the­re, they were kil­led off some years ago. A stock was, howe­ver, pre­ser­ved in the Falk­land Islands. So the simp­le truth is: San­ta Claus’ rein­de­er come from the Falk­land Islands! And so does pro­bab­ly the man hims­elf, as he has to take care of his rein­de­er also the rest of the year, doesn’t he?

Hap­py Christ­mas!

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