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'How does he get down the chimney?': Kids' trickiest questions about Santa, answered by experts

If you don’t know the answer, science probably does, writes Sheena McGinley.

Image: Shutterstock

IN AN AGE of information bombardment, it’s tricky keeping abreast of facts that matter. And at this time of year, the facts that really matter tend to be Santa-related. 

Specifically: his existence, his ability to fly, and his ability to give gifts to every child across the globe in one night. 

With so much information out there, how does a young and curious mind know what is real and what isn’t? And how on earth can we, as parents, field questions about Santa’s globetrotting and gift-delivering with something a little more substantial than “um… the elves help.” 

Below are just a few examples of questions I’ve been tackling from my own kids. For a few, I’ve given my own take below, and for the rest, I’ve turned to the pros.

The easy ones

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1. Why do the elves in The Santa Chronicles look different to the elves in Elf?

No one has actually seen an elf so we’re just guessing what they look like – elves are more covert than Santa. 

2. Can I have a really expensive present – like a pony?

I’m afraid not. You see, Santa just deals with toys, not living, breathing livestock – mainly because he knows that anything with a pulse usually requires constant upkeep. Also, is it fair that one child gets a really expensive present and another doesn’t? It’s about balance, that’s why we give him a few options to choose from in your letter.

3. How does Santa eat a snack at every house?

He burns a lot of calories jumping time zones. 

4. Can he bring back Nana?

In short, no. The other day, my 5-year-old started whispering to the Christmas tree, saying “Santa, can you please bring back Nana and Grandad, but not as zombies, ‘cause Mummy would freak…” There are certain things that are beyond the realm of Santa’s expertise. This is one of those instances, unfortunately. 

The really tricky ones 

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If you have a particularly inquisitive child in your care this festive season, you might have to deal with more complex topics than elf uniforms and Christmas Eve snacks.

For those more difficult queries, asked Dahnan Spurling, a nanoscientist and PHD student at Trinity College Dublin, for his input. Let’s face it, us parents should at least sound like we know what we’re talking about…

1. How does Santa get down the chimney? What might his suit be made of?

And if there is no chimney, does he have a magic key or a swipe card?

“Santa is most likely able to shrink or otherwise squeeze through the tiniest of gaps, be they chimneys, keyholes or vents – along with his sack of gifts,” says Spurling.

I can only imagine that his suit – and indeed his sack – is made of some highly elastic and hard-wearing polymer or nanomaterial that shrinks and grows as required. 

2. How does he know if a kid has been naughty or nice?

In Arthur Christmas, the elves have a gadget that scans sleeping children to see if they have been well behaved throughout the year. While this could be feasible, Spurling has a different theory involving an array of eyes and ears:

I always believed that robins, mice and other small creatures kept an eye on kids during the year. Many animals seem to have an intuition that isn’t fully understood by us humans, after all. Though, if kids can send letters to Santa, can’t parents send their own reports to him also?

3. How does he get around the world in one night?

Is it all down to clever use of timezones? Jumping through portals? Spurling reckons it’s more to do with the relationship between speed and time:

“This is a tough one, and if I could give a solid answer they’d probably give me a Nobel Prize. Let’s break it down… Santa has many millions of homes to visit in one night. With the rotation of the earth that will give him 24 hours to visit everyone. Even with a full day, he will still need to travel incredibly fast.”

A consequence of this is that the faster you go, the slower time passes for you. By way of example; if you were travelling 99% the speed of light, time would pass over seven times slower. For Santa, the faster he flies, the more time he has to get the job done.

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4. How does Santa get his sleigh and reindeers to fly?

“Santa is clearly capable of considerable feats of science and/or magic,” says Spurling.

I would say it’s probably more likely his sleigh and the reindeer’s harness are providing the lift, with the reindeer themselves providing the pulling power needed to cover so much ground so quickly.

“It’s a pretty mammoth task, so I would say that his reindeer are relying on everyone to have faith in them that they can pull it off once again this year. Accomplishing anything is really a question of motivation, after all.”

See? Even the scientists agree: Christmas spirit is key.

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More: My kids are Santa sceptics – but here’s how I’m keeping them interested in Christmas>

More: Put Santa on a budget : 7 smart tips for avoiding Christmas overload in your house>

About the author:

Sheena McGinley

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