The many science fiction explanations for Santa Claus

The notion that an immortal toymaker circumnavigates the planet every December 24 using nothing but caribou defies all logic, but Anassa Rhenisch of Science In My Fiction is determined to make St. Nick make sense. Maybe he uses ion shields?

Every December I get this one email. You know the one. It's supposedly written by a physicist, and states that Santa would have to travel so quickly he'd burn up, no reindeer team could possibly lift a sleigh carrying one doll for every Christian/secular/Christmas-celebrating child in the world, the sleigh would have to be impossibly strong to carry all that weight, etc, etc. I'm always left with a nagging feeling that somebody's using physics to further their anti-Santa agenda, and that the facts in that email cannot be the whole story.

Fortunately, the internet provides. Here are not one, but two refutations! (You'll need to scroll down to the second item on that last link.) That's an awful lot of reading, I agree, so I'll summarize the key suggestions for you, and explain what they tell us about Santa. Nice of me, no?

• Santa uses an ion shield so he doesn't burn up. As we currently do not have widely available ion shield technology, this leaves us with four options. 1) Santa has stolen and elaborated on state-of-the-art, possibly classified technology. 2) Santa is secretly a physicist. 3) Santa comes from a civilization that has perfected the ion shield, i.e. Santa is an alien, or 3a) Santa is a time-traveling philanthropist.

• Santa uses the frictionless environment of space to improve his travel time. Santa's sleigh is equipped with artificial gravity strong enough to maintain an atmosphere, or Santa and his reindeer all wear spacesuits and carry oxygen tanks. If artificial gravity, see the ion shield explanations.

• Santa makes use of more than four dimensions. Again, this suggests Santa is an alien or a time traveller, as we currently have no way of accessing more than four dimensions (consistently, at least. Who knows what the LHC is really capable of?). Alternatively, Santa can do magic, a fact supported by Christmas folklore and literature, and by the fact that he routinely employs elves. The use of 5+ dimensions may also explain why Santa's workshop is invisible.

• Santa is Einstein. See: time-traveling philanthropist; physicist.

• Santa causes global warming. Unfortunately, this is an argument against Philanthropist Santa. Perhaps he's trying to make the North Pole warm enough he can save on the heating costs?

• Santa uses wool hats as thought-monitoring devices. This is evidence of a massively advanced technology, as there is nothing about wool that makes it useful for monitoring thoughts. Additionally, there would need to be a way to transmit the information over massive distances (such as radio waves) and again, there's no evidence of a transmitter in any wool hat I've ever seen. Not even the pompoms. See: time traveller; alien.

• Santa's reindeer use vacuum energy to fly. Further advanced technology. Possibly evidence of a) mutant reindeer or b) alien lifeforms that bear a strong resemblance to Earth reindeer.

• Santa's reindeer are a new species. This is entirely possible, given that we're still discovering new species, but is made less plausible by the extent of exploration that's taken place in the world's arctic regions, the reindeer's natural habitat. Perhaps Santa uses the North Pole as a wildlife preserve. These reindeer may have evolved to resemble robots (strong skin, flight, ability to withstand massive heat, weights, and speeds, as well as vacuum). Possibly they are, in fact, robots (or cyborgs).

• Santa's faster-than-light travel slows down time. This presupposes that Santa can travel faster than light. Since he can't be teleporting (there's documented evidence of him and his sleigh flying, landing on roofs, etc.), he must be using advanced technology again.

• There are multiple Santa Clauses. Cloning! Or the theory from the archive, that there's actually a family of Clauses. This would mean that there are multiple teams of reindeer, which would give support to the wildlife preserve idea.

• Santa realizes all possible quantum states, or exists as one "particle" spread over a great distance. a) alien b) magical c) Schroedinger's Santa. There's no other way he'd be able to reestablish himself in one place, at one time, without one of the above. As various people in the archive point out, this also accounts for his invisibility while visiting houses.

• Santa uses guided-missile type technology to drop presents down chimneys without landing. I personally don't believe this, because there's too much documented evidence of him going down the chimneys too. However, if you want to go with this idea, think about what parameters Santa would need to key the homing tech to, to land the gifts under the tree without hitting anything? Does the technology lock onto anything green, big, and triangular? Do we even have the ability to guide missiles without using a heat signature as the target? I call advanced technology again.

• Rudolph's nose is actually red-shifted during flight. Plausible, given the speeds he'd be moving at.

• Santa is dosing his reindeer. Perhaps it's the hour I'm writing this, but I'd say this is possible. Not particularly nice of Santa in the long run, though. The reindeer would have massive burnout or withdrawal symptoms come Boxing Day. Continuing the routine year after year would also likely shorten their lifespans. This seems to be an argument against the wildlife preserve idea.

• Santa's reindeer fly in the same way that Arthur Dent flies, i.e., they just forget to hit the ground. This is so silly it has to be true.

• Santa's workshop is situated at a wormhole nexus. If so, what else is coming through? And how can we make use of this remarkable resource?

I would also like to add that Santa may have a personal cloaking device, a larger one for his sleigh and reindeer, and an even larger one for his workshop, to account of his invisibility. Alternatively, Santa has a TARDIS, which would let him do faster-than-light travel, get into any building, and possibly be in multiple places at once.

Most of these points and suggestions make the case for Santa being either a time-traveller or an alien. However, time travel is pretty much impossible and a civilization that could achieve it on such a scale would be so far in the future I can't imagine any of their citizens bothering with us folks in our historical backwater. Therefore, Santa must be an alien.

This post originally appeared on Science In My Fiction. Top image via issue 10 of 1990's What The—?!