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Christmas special: Santa, Middle ages, NASA and wormholes

“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you've been bad or good…” We need to warn you to stop reading right now, in case you still believe in Santa’s magical world. Just remain with the lyrics of the song and keep on merrily humming "Santa Claus is coming to town”. But if you would like to discover a couple of intriguing facts about a jovial elderly guy in a red hat, prepare a hot chocolate and brace yourself for the next paragraph.

Firstly, let’s be clear – we all know very well who Santa Claus is, what he does and what he looks like. Although our Christmas traditions might differ (some of us might not even celebrate Christmas at all), we all have the same peculiar mass-culture image of Santa in our heads. A ruddy old man in a red outfit with a large belly and a thick and well-groomed long white beard. Does it remind you of something? The Coca-Cola Christmas commercial! The one that we watched as children with our noses almost glued to the TV screen, knowing that this is the beginning of Christmas season. Coincidence? I think not. In fact, Haddon Sundblum, who prepared Coca Cola's advertising in 1931 is responsible for this mainstream image of Santa Claus. The artist was inspired by Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicolas” from 1822. However, if you are a fan of Inception, you will shout with us "We need to go deeper!". Searching for more information on the jolly old guy, you might stumble upon an article by Smithsonian Magazine that shows a little darker side of the story. It appears that it was American cartoonist Thomas Nast who was behind the creation of Santa's modern figure. In this case, the gift sack does not contain black soft drink bottles, but… political propaganda. In the famous drawing by Nast called "Marry Old Santa Claus" from 1881, Santa Claus is equipped with a military backpack and a toy horse, which is a reference to the Trojan horse - a symbol of the treachery of the government!

Anyway, long before Santa Claus and his famous "ho ho ho!", according to some sources around 3rd/4th century, there was a certain Nicholas that became a saint and an inspiration for the fairy-tale old man we know today. This is not a story about Saint Nicholas of Myra, however, what you should know about him is that at the turn of the century, he went through a spectacular and fantastic metamorphosis. According to some legends, he gave away his wealth, supported poor people, performed miracles and lived a life so righteous and holy that after an alleged martyr's death, he was called a saint and his cult became extraordinarily popular. The relics of St. Nicholas were believed to have had astonishing healing properties, and their mere presence brought the happiness and wealth - mainly because the miraculous remains attracted crowds of pilgrims along with pockets full of coins.

So we are moving a few centuries forward, to 1087, to be exact. A criminal intrigue, just like in heist movies, but instead of Brad Pitt, George Clooney and casino money, the protagonists of this story are the Barians. In fear of Venetian competition, they laid their eyes on Saint Nicholas relics and decided to steal the precious remains for the glory of their city. Forty-seven men dressed as pilgrims came to the cathedral in Myra, asked the monks to show Nicholas' burial place, then smashed the floor, took future Santa's bones and sailed away. However, our "resolute" Barians, who were in a hurry apparently, left some fragments of St. Nicholas behind. The vindictive Venetians took advantage of the situation and confiscated the abandoned relics (having previously tortured the temple guard - a naughtiness that our modern Santa Claus would not be happy about).

Now that you are hopefully warm under the blanket and you have finished your delicious hot chocolate, you are ready for a little bit of science (with a grain of salt, of course). It turns out that Santa Claus is a topic of several scientific studies on physics, chemistry, biology and even psychiatry. When children stubbornly ask their parents how on Earth is it possible that Santa is able to fly in his primitive sleigh and deliver his gifts to everyone in just one night, they reply without stammering (not to provoke any further uncomfortable discussions): "It's magic, child!". Christmas magic usually ends when children discover that their parents are the ones who put the presents under the tree at night, making faces that Grinch would be impressed by after stepping on a stray Lego piece with their bare feet. Scientists, presumably dissatisfied with their own parents' explanation, have decomposed the myth of Santa Claus into its prime factors. Here are some weird facts that might get you thinking:

  • Santa's reindeer would have to eat 7.5 trillion carrots to get the energy necessary to visit all the houses in one night;

  • Santa's noiseless sliding down the chimney to our homes can be explained with Albert Einstein's theory of relativity As he travels really fast to deliver presents around the world, Santa shrinks in the direction he is travelling. This makes it a lot easier to fit thorough a narrow chimney pipe...

  • In order to visit all children in one night, Santa would have to travel at 0.5% speed of light. So, if he was to race against the Apollo command and service module or the North American X-15 hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft, he would win easy;

  • Assuming that an average chimney is approximately 4 m high, each Christmas Santa Claus is forced to climb the equivalent of Mount Everest over 50 thousand times, talk about skipping leg day;

  • North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been following Santa's flight every Christmas since 1955. According to NASA, it is possible thanks to satellites that are able to detect Rudolf's (the lead reindeer) nose which shines bright and emits infrared light, providing a signal for the instruments to focus on. Here you can check where the jolly old man is on December 24:

Finally, we hope you were good this year and you will get the gifts of your dreams delivered under the Christmas tree directly from Santa's wormhole. Make sure, though, that the cookies you leave are not really "disappeared" by other household members...! And if you are not big fans of the chubby old man in his red jacket and you need a bit of a thrill this holiday season, you can always explore Christmas myths from other countries. Maybe this year you will be visited by Krampus or Italian witch Befana. Be sure to add at least one pair of Christmas socks to your gift list! In Iceland, it could save you from Yule Cat (Jólakötturinn), murdering people who did not receive new clothes for Christmas. To be honest, this story must have been invented by Icelandic grandmothers, annoyed by a lack of respect for their handmade woolen products...

Merry Christmas and stay safe in these difficult times!

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