We’re ditching the sleigh for this logistical exercise.
The technicalities of Santa’s annual gift run are a much-debated topic of conversation around this time of year. There are dozens of articles about speculative sleigh dimensions, projected airspeed velocities, and magical toy sack dimensions. But today we’re asking a far more freight-minded hypothetical:
What if Santa drove a dry van?
How long would his mythical, round-the-world midnight ride take if denied his magical team of flying reindeer? Let’s find out.
(Disclaimer: Extremely rough math, generalizations, and holiday-themed jokes ahead.)
Dry van shipping is industry standard when it comes to consumer goods. Everything from electronics to apparel to car parts makes its way onto shelves via your standard dry van, so it only makes sense Saint Nick would opt for one come Christmas time.
For our purposes, Santa’s rig will look something like this:
It’s your run of the mill 53’ long, 102” wide, 110” high trailer. His tractor is a sleeper cab (in red of course), because Santa always obeys DOT regulations and makes sure he never drives drowsy. Speaking of DOT regulations…
We’re going to have to make some serious assumptions for this next bit.
Santa is famous for his door-to-door service (no transloading here), so we’re assuming the same chimney-access-magic applies to driveways.
He’ll also be skipping ports, distribution centers, and borders. No customs issues for ol’ Chris Kringle, Forager is already taking care of all his cross-border needs. And luckily for Santa, Old Man Winter can lend his rig the north wind to get him up and over any oceans. If reindeer can fly, why not a semi?
When it comes to the freight itself, we’ll need to assume Santa’s team of elves is standing at the ready near every filling station to continually keep Santa’s trailer packed with toys. There will be a bit of magic involved in the loading process to ensure St. Nick has access to the right gifts for each house.
And because Santa is nothing if not concerned with being “nice” rather than “naughty” we’re going to assume he’s obeying the hours of service rules. Which is to say – he won’t be driving for more than 11 hours a day. More than 11 hours can be dangerous, for both Santa’s safety, and the safety of everyone else on the road. Even a man of Santa’s many holiday-themed talents needs a coffee break.
Finally, for the same reason Santa will be diligent about getting a full night’s sleep, he’ll be mindful of traffic laws. Including speed limits. So, if he’s averaging 55 – 60 mph (and not a mile over!) then we’ll say he’s doing around 650 miles per day. A generous calculation, but Santa’s always had luck on his side. Also, you know, magic.
Get ready for a lot of rough estimations.
According to UNICEF there are about 1.9 billion children aged 0-14 in the world. Because naughty children also receive a gift from Santa (even though it’s only coal), in theory every single one of those children warrant a delivery.
Unless you don’t believe in Santa, of course.
On average, children stop believing in Santa around age 8. If we assume Santa skips over those non-believer children, the number drops from 1.9 billion to 1.3 billion.
The number also drops when you consider that many households worldwide have more than one child. It’s hard to find a precise global average when we’re only counting children who still believe in Santa, so for the sake of this hypothetical, let’s say there are 2 children on Santa’s list per household.
1.3 billion divided by 2 gives us 650 million households. Assuming these households are evenly distributed across the Earth’s land area (minus Antarctica) that means Santa will need to cover 52.11 million square miles.
Or about 12.47 miles per house.
That’s a lot of driving.
Let’s see how long it would take Santa and his magic dry van to finish his Christmas deliveries.
As previously mentioned, Santa can cover 650 miles per day. At 12.47 miles per house that works out to 52 houses per day.
With 650 million houses total Chris Kringle will need to drive for 12.5 million days (34,246 years) to deliver every present. Uh oh.
34,246 years of driving means there’s no way Santa could ever get all his presents out in just one day. But what if he had help?
Let’s keep all the math from before, but now let’s assume he hires every one of America’s 3.5 million truckers to help. They’ll get a little sprinkling of Christmas Magic to ensure they can also hit 52 houses per day.
Now how long would the deliveries take?
52 houses per driver, 3.5 million drivers, that’s 182 million houses visited in just one day.
But that’s still not even close to the 650 million houses we need to visit.
Let’s enlist truckers from around the world – China alone has around 30 million – now let’s run the numbers again.
Assuming we can get 12.5 million drivers to help Santa run his lanes, the deliveries will be a piece of cake!
52 houses, 12.5 million drivers, that’s 650 million houses. Christmas is saved!
Santa probably uses his magic sleigh for a reason, but he could have a real future in freight if he put his mind to it.