Frylock: Where did you hear that?
A question often brought up to disprove the existence of Santa Claus: How the heck could he deliver all those toys to so many children in one night? There are so many factors involved, it just wouldn't be possible by natural means.
But of course, when Santa has flying reindeer and elves working with him, he might not be limited to natural means. One answer is to make him a Time Master, so he can take as long as he needs to. Simpler yet, A Wizard Did It.
Interestingly, most fiction questions only how the toys are delivered, not how so many adults (even in the worlds of fiction) can fail to notice the toys and thus not believe in him.
This trope comes into play whenever someone asks the question, but often someone will have an answer, or when Santa is shown to be real, we are given the actual answer.
Conversely, someone may invoke this trope as an excuse to get out of a Ludicrous Gift Request: You can't expect Santa to bring you a hippopotamus or a rocket launcher since they wouldn't fit in his sleigh!
Not to be confused with Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?.
- Discussed in Archie Comics; In one story, Dilton posits that Santa is actually a hyper-advanced robot, but the others aren't impressed. With Chuck making sketches, the Riverdale gang makes their own guesses on what kind of person Santa could be. They determine that He'd have to be a younger, skinnier man in order to make his worldwide trip, have a long nose to smell out the cookies kids leave him, and be squinty-eyed in order to see in the dark. Much to everyone's surprise, the result comes out looking like Jughead!
- In another story where Santa himself appeared, one of his new elves asks him this question directly. Santa explains that he uses a special time warp technique to do it.
- Played with in a DC Comics Holiday Special, in which Max Mercury (a super-speedster) has a great deal of trouble convincing Impulse (another speedster) that Santa doesn't exist.
Max: How does he visit all those houses in one night?
Impulse: Super-speed. Duh.
- The various aspects of this get addressed in the Disney Ducks Comic Universe, sometimes contradicting each other due Negative Continuity:
- In an Italian Donald Duck story set when he was a child his friend Millicent tries to disprove Santa's existance this way, but Donald and the others simply reply it's magic. Later they do see Santa, Millicent says it's an imposter because he's too slow... Then they discover he has a magic watch he uses to have all the time he needs in a single night.
- In one story Scrooge discovers he has a toy factory that operates at loss, and decides to visit it to close it down... Only to discover that, at some point, he bought Santa out, and he's single-handedly financing Santa's operations. Scrooge declares that Santa will be the only executive of his companies allowed to operate at loss.
- Another Italian story tackles both the time and where Santa gets all the toys: he makes all the deliveries on time because of magic, and as for the toys... His elves assemble most of them, but lately he has to complement them with Scrooge's toys, totaling almost half the deliveries (no mention of how he pays for the toys, both those made by the elves and the ones bought from Scrooge).
- The Fables version of Santa Claus uses co-location. Time flows normally, but Santa is everywhere he needs to be all at the same time.
- Of course Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes is childlike enough to believe in Santa and logical enough to think about these questions all the time. He wonders not only about how Santa can deliver the toys so fast, but on at least one occasion asks how Santa makes the toys, given the problems of paying for elf labor and the raw materials to make the toys. He also expresses discomfort, on quite a regular basis, with how he's in the position of being judged as "naughty or nice," and who is Santa to judge him that way? But he doesn't seem to have noticed that adults (and even many children) seem not to believe in Santa, so he's got no cognitive dissonance there.
- In The Perishers, Baby Grumpling asks a related question.
Baby Grumpling: But how can he come down our chimney?
Maisie: What do you mean?
Baby Grumpling: Well, we've got a stove. With a stovepipe. Which is only three inches wide. And it leads into the red hot stove. Which has got knobs on.
Maisie: HE GOES ON A CRASH DIET, WEARS FLAMEPROOF UNDERWEAR, AND CARRIES A SET OF BURGLARY TOOLS!
Baby Grumpling: All right, all right! There's no need to lose your temper.
- In Arthur Christmas, it is revealed that all the presents get delivered by Santa's high-tech operation hidden beneath the north pole. And here is the EXTREMELY high-tech sleigh.
- This is only after the original sleigh is retired following a snafu with the previous Santa, who was detected by world governments who tried to shoot him down. Until then, Santas really did use a sleigh pulled by reindeer using magical pixie dust. While the new high-tech sleigh, called S-1, is larger by several orders of magnitude, it's also designed using modern stealth technology and even has active camouflage.
- Inverted in Elf. Buddy is confused as to why so many people don't believe in Santa Claus, and wonders who the non-believing children think deliver all the presents. When Papa Elf responds that they believe their parents put the toys there, Buddy scoffs, saying "That's ridiculous! Parents couldn't do all that in one night!"
- In Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest gives a spoof answer involving physics babble.
- In the direct-to-video movie Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas Goofy and Max's neighbor Pete points out that there is no way Santa can exist because he simply cannot deliver all those presents in one night. Subverted because Goofy and Max aren't trying to find out how Santa delivers the presents, but rather are just trying to find out if he exists. They do finally see Santa at the end of the story who gives them just what they want, and Pete the lesson of his life for messing with their Christmas spirit.
- In the new Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle explains that time slows down as he delivers presents.
- The TV Movie The Night They Saved Christmas has Santa's head elf, Ed, show off a handheld device which makes time literally slow down. He claims it involves "physics and stuff I don't understand" and was made by their R&D department.
- Neil asks Charlie this in The Santa Clause stating that Santa somehow slows down time. Father Time is a figure in these movies so it is plausible. Charlie points out that there are children that don't celebrate Christmas, and that a fireplace kind of appears magically in homes without one. Scott finds out Charlie was at least right about the fireplace thing.
- In Santa Claus: The Movie, the head elf says that "Time itself shall travel with you." A very mystical, and extraordinarily atmospheric, way of saying that time doesn't always flow for him the way it does for most people. (It doesn't explain how those two kids would be aware of him, however.)
- Santa Claus states that Santa Claus inhabits the 5th dimension, discovered by Merlin (yes, that Merlin), and appears everywhere at once. So, apparently Santa Claus discovered quantum entanglement and quantum super-imposition.
- In the Disney Channel movie 'Twas the Night Santa uses a device that can stop time as well as change the size of whatever he points it at both for present storage and getting into homes.
- Brought up in Artemis Fowl. The answer is that Santa stops time and gets ALL of the elves to chip in on the delivery business.
- In The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear, Sister Bear asks this to Papa, along with a few other questions about Santa.
- The kids' book Chimneyless at Christmas involves a little girl wondering how Santa can get into her house because she has no chimney.
- The Day Santa Stopped Believing In Harold: Harold's reason for doubting Santa's existence is wondering how he can do his job. He's seen reading books about Santa, drawing diagrams, and taking notes.
- In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg is starting to have doubts about Santa because he's not sure how Santa can watch all the kids at once.
- In Dilly The Dinosaur, Dilly wonders how Dino Claus, the prehistoric Santa, can tell who's been good or bad if he never leaves home except on Christmas. He's happy with the answer "It's magic".
- In The Dresden Files's earliest short stories, Harry mentions in passing that Santa doesn't actually hand out toys to anyone but a small amount of children per Christmas. It is later shown Santa, or Kringle as he is known, is a master of time magic and so can use it to move fast enough and by virtue of being an aspect of Odin has enough power to make portals to most any place on earth at his leisure.
- In the For Your Safety universe, one adult discovers a Santa robot delivering presents. It explains to her that it's one of sixty million Santas delivering presents that night, about one to an average of fifty Christian homes.
- In Hogfather, Death simply states that Hogswatchnight is a special time. One where his manservant Albert can be alive all night, despite having only a few seconds left.
- Answered as the crux of the Neil Gaiman's very short story "Nicholas Was...." He's forced to deliver gifts in an Endless Night where Time Stands Still by eldritch 'dwarves'.
- The novel Santa Steps Out has Santa use "Magic Time" to make time flow differently for him, allowing him more than enough time to deliver all the presents. And he's not the only one who uses it; when Mrs. Claus finds out Santa's been cheating on her, she uses it for a rather different purpose...namely, having sex with every elf in the workshop in one weekend.
- Doctor Who:
- The 2014 Christmas special "Last Christmas" plays with this trope. At one point, Santa claims that his sleigh is Bigger on the Inside. Averted in that Santa is only part of an elaborate series of nested dreams. Or is he?
- At one point the cast are invoking Arbitrary Skepticism for plot-related reasons. Santa is being interrogated to find out if he's real.
Santa: There's not just one Santa delivery team. How could there be? There are five hundred and twenty six million four hundred and three thousand and twelve children all expecting presents before tomorrow morning. So, hmm, that's twenty two million children per hour. It's impossible! Obviously, I've got a second sledge.
- Engine Sentai Go-onger explains that Santa is able to carry so many presents because his sack is a Bag of Holding that allows him to pull out whatever he wishes to hand out to the person he chooses. The Go-Ongers actually end up hiding inside it to launch a surprise attack on the villains.
- The Christmas special of Little House on the Prairie had a neighbor recount how his big brother showed him a big stack of presents as proof that Santa wasn't real. His father told him that Santa actually delivers every family's shipment of goodies as soon as they were ready since it's impossible that he does it all in one go. His big brother went without gifts that year...
- This question is posed in The Nanny's animated Christmas episode "Oy to the World":
Grace: Fran, the storm is getting worse. How is Santa going to deliver all the presents?Fran: Gracie, the man is bigger than Dom DeLuise and he fits through a chimney. Believe me, he can get through a blizzard.
- In Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, the Santa everyone knows is actually the head of a mass delivery operation that consists of dozens of other Santa Clauses of all ages. Each one is given their own sack of presents and delivery destinations.
- In the Christmas episode of The Pretender, Jarod (who grew up isolated from pop culture) had just read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and asked a colleague how Santa could deliver all those presents in one night, not to mention the fact that Santa is doing it while being old and overweight.
- The 2017 Nickelodeon film "Tiny Christmas" indicates that Santa has an R & D department constantly working on ways to make it easier for Santa to deliver. Elfonso, head of the department creates size-changing goggles that shrink and enlarge presents for ease of transport.
- At the end of the Star Wars Concept Album Christmas In The Stars, the droids are visited by S. Claus, the son of Santa. He explains that Santa gets help from his family to deliver toys across the galaxy.
- Deconstructed in the song "The Night Santa Went Crazy". Where delivering presents to everyone for some milk and cookies caused Santa to snap. Killing most of his reindeer, taking the elves hostage and blowing up the workshop before getting jailed.
- Oscar the Grouch asks Big Bird this in the classic Christmas Eve On Sesame Street. (Specifically, he asks how Santa Claus can fit into skinny chimneys or apartment buildings, a much bigger concern for urban kids. Big Bird almost freezes trying to find out.)
- In Sluggy Freelance Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny have the power to move at incredible speeds so they can deliver presents and painted eggs, respectively. Under rare circumstances, they can use this power outside of running deliveries, sending them rocketing up the Super Weight scale.
- xkcd parodies the trope by proposing a different question entirely: How does Santa get rid of all the cookies and milk that he had to eat during the night? Where does he poop them out?
- In Email Santa, there is an FAQ that has questions about how Santa delivers in one night and how the reindeer fly. The site asserts that they're both secrets, but there are some possible answers. For the former, speculations include anti-matter, some bizarre mangling of E=mc2, the North Pole being a temporally anomalous zone due to the time zones meeting there, and Santa using time zones to cheat. For the latter, they include antlers actually being for flight, drones and hoverboards, magic dust, time warps or wormholes, an inborn trait that some reindeer have, elves genetically engineering reindeer/Pegasus hybrids with helium in their lungs, and magical mushrooms and lichen. Both situations are also speculated to be caused by time zones and wormholes, magic dust, or reindeer antlers converting children's Christmas spirit into lift and thrust.
- Subverted in the final skit of Jacksfilms' "Royalty Free Christmas Songs #5":
How does he travel the world in a night?
How do a reindeer take flight?
Well, I know the secret
So I shall pass it unto you~
Santa ain't real, so grow the hell up
Santa ain't real, so grow the hell up, I said
Santa ain't real, so grow the hell up
Santa ain't real, grow up. (Again!)
- In Santa Claus Dot Com, the FAQ has a few such questions. The full list of questions that'd qualify as this trope is: "What does Santa do if there is no chimney or the fire is lit?" (It's a secret, but magic is involved), "How do the reindeer fly?" (They eat magical corn and oats), "Why are Santa and the elves never seen?" (They have Super Speed. The site adds that technically elves can sometimes be seen, but only by good people, it's very rare, even the best people only catch a glimpse, and Santa can never be seen.), "How does Santa do it in one night?" (With time zones and magic), "How does Santa know who's been naughty or nice?" (The elves watch the kids), and "Does Santa need snow to make deliveries?" (Technically yes, but he only needs it to be snowing somewhere in the world, or else how could he deliver to Florida, countries under the equator, etc?)
- SCP Foundation:
Results are hard to interpret. The tandem of SCP-2412-J and all the sub-SCPs apparently was capable of clearing very high distances within seconds (this is theorized to be a form of teleportation), and even co-existing in numerous locations at once. When asked to name the party responsible for these anomalies, SCP-2412 replied simply "Magic." and refused to elaborate.
- They once attached a satellite tracking device to him to find out once and for all.
- Another Santa, SCP-4255 uses time travel to go to several houses at the same time.
- SF Debris' original story "You Better Watch Out" features a dark backstory to Santa: he was a con man in Austria whose punishment in death is to live up to his description of himself. When he is delivering presents, time is stopped, and when he wakes up the next morning, it's Christmas Eve the following year.
- In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, Santa uses a dash-mounted wormhole device to accelerate to FTL, appearing to deliver the gifts as a ball of light.
- In Buzz Lightyear of Star Command's Christmas Episode "Holiday Time", Santa uses a small device that is able to stop time in order to deliver presents across the galaxy (and have enough time to enjoy the milk and cookies). Before that the ElfGMs had devised a larger hyper-acceleration rocket pack that makes him move so fast to have the same effect but Santa vetoed that because of how risky that method was. When both devices are destroyed while trying to retrieve the smaller one from Zurg, they use a space sleigh that runs on pure belief, and has the same effect.
- The Codename: Kids Next Door An Ass-Kicking Christmas episode gives us an atypical explanation; instead of going out in a reindeer-pulled sleigh, Santa teleports the gifts directly to homes, with Christmas trees acting as homing beacons. It's done in a setup that emulates Cerebro from the X-Men movies. The control module, called the Reindeer, is a belt of jingle bells that becomes a bolt of energy as the device powers up. Santa is also the only one that can use it as anyone else becomes corrupted by the immense greed of access to all those presents. Like Gollum, they'll inevitably mutate into a Grinch-like shell of their former self.
- Danny Phantom: Danny's parents argue over whether Santa Claus is real or not. Maddie reasons that it would be impossible for someone to travel around the world at a high enough speed to do it in one night without being burned up.
- In an animated Family Circus special, Jeffy asks Billy this, and Billy says Santa has a watch that stops time.
- Grimly deconstructed in Family Guy "The Road to the North Pole", where keeping this up turned the workshop into a Nightmarish Factory, and nearly gave Santa a fatal Heroic RRoD. Although the episode explains how Santa is able to make all the presents, the matter of delivering them all in one night doesn't seem to be an issue.
- In The Flintstones, Fred asks the elves this while filling in for Santa (and air-dropping presents down chimneys). They reply that they don't take coffee breaks.
- In The Loud House episode "11 Louds a-Leapin'", Lisa wonders how Santa could do it all night, so she does an equation and concludes that... he can't, therefore he doesn't exist. When she sees her neighbour Mr. Grouse dressed as Santa she denounces her disbelief and basically says, "Oh, I saw him; he must exist!" but is too distracted by the presents Mr. Grouse gave her to wonder how.
- In My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Pooh's Super Sleuth Christmas Movie , it was Rabbit's Christmas wish to know the answer to this. He figured that Santa must have some sort of secret technology. He was thrilled with the actual answer— that Santa has magic.
- The Powerpuff Girls affect the delivery of toys on Santa's behalf in Twas The Fight Before Christmas as a make-good after they and Princess Morbucks rent Santa's headquarters asunder fighting.
- The concept behind Prep & Landing is that an elite team of Christmas Elves go ahead of Santa to prep each home for his arrival. It doesn't explain everything, but it does imply that the elves do most of the heavy lifting.
- Although the short feature "Prep and Landing: Secret Santa" implies that St. Nick started by himself and brought the elves on as his enterprise expanded. (And the elves get a pension implying they can eventually retire.)
- This is mentioned in the Recess episode "Yes, Mikey, Santa Does Shave", in which Mikey attempts to prove that Santa is real and indeed can deliver all those toys. Gretchen counters that a man of his size could not fit through the chimney and that the speed he would need to travel at is simply impossible.
- Brought up in Transformers: Animated during "Human Error". Ratchet dismisses the whole thing as impossible, while Prowl and Optimus suggest "multiple Santas" (Optimus having seen plenty of guys in costume while driving through Detroit).
- hoops&Yoyo Ruin Christmas explains Santa's impossible gift delivery by revealing he travels through wormholes to get the job done. Hoops, Yoyo, and Piddles accidentally fall into one of the wormholes after sneaking onto Santa's sleigh, causing them to be trapped in the past and kicking off the special's plot.
- In the Marvel Universe special, Marvel Super Hero Adventures: Frost Fight, Santa is a light elf/frost giant hybrid, named Jolnir, whose mixed heritage granted him powerful magic that he uses to warp time and space to deliver gifts to all nine realms from his residence in Alfheim. The conflict of the story is Loki using an artifact to steal this power just before Christmas.
- When Santa Claus appears in the DuckTales (2017) episode "How Santa Stole Christmas!", Huey outright asks him how he's able to do it all in one night. The answer turns out to be a star-shaped gemstone called the Feliz Navidiamond that slows down time for one night a year. Santa and Scrooge originally claimed the diamond from a cave when the former was just beginning his career, where it was guarded by flying reindeer (which Santa tamed with jingle bells and made his iconic team) and a giant monster snowman.
- One December issue of a children's science magazine responded to this question with a theory involving wormholes.
- According to humorist Gene Weingarten, to reach all of the roughly 2 billion children on earth in 24 hours would require Santa to go at a speed approaching lightspeed, which on the first stop would destroy the world and all the little kiddies.
- In a Finnish newspaper comic Väinämöisen paluu ("Vainamoinen Returns") the explanation of time-stopping hourglass is used. And then the Fridge Logic is played for all its worth, stating that Santa needs to work nonstop for weeks of subjective time, and needs intensive therapy every time to get over the stress and sleep deprivation.
- A few TV specials suggest Santa air drops some or many of his gifts while flying over houses, as one way of speeding up delivery of his packages to everyone (without having to physically go into every home). This is seen in a few of The Flintstones Christmas specials, plus the end credits of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
- Several websites and news outlets do segments around Christmas Eve calculating how fast Santa would have to travel in order to accomplish his task in one day, usually defined as being December 24th in whatever local time zone he was in at the moment. Specific calculations vary depending on assumptions made: how long he has to visit each household, whether he visits every household on Earth or only where Christmas is widely celebrated, whether Santa can only travel after dark, etc. The path plotted generally go east to west to take advantage of the Earth's rotation as much as possible. Conclusions range from around Mach 5 to faster than the speed of light. Some of them also point out that without some form of Inertial Dampening, the acceleration needed to hold that average speed while making millions of stops would cause the sleigh to explode.