5 Ways Santa Claus is a Superhero, According to UCI Physics Professor

Able to leap into tall chimneys in a single bound.
Able to leap into tall chimneys in a single bound.
Don Dufur for UCI

Some kids had their noses buried in comic books.

Some of them grew up to become physics professors.

One of them, UC Irvine's Michael Dennin, teaches the science of superheroes and co-hosts a Web show that handicaps hypothetical battles between the likes of Spider-Man and Batman.

Based on this knowledge, Dennin believes Santa Claus qualifies as a bona fide superhero.

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As with kryptonite for Superman, ol' St. Nick does have a weakness.

Cookies and milk.

"But it doesn’t debilitate him like kryptonite," Dennin explains. "It’s merely a distraction.”

Here's how Dennin breaks down Santa's superheroness (courtesy of UCI's Roy Rivenburg):

Dennin says Santa Claus is faster than both the Flash and Superman, who are prevented from exceeding the speed of light by the laws of physics. Santa defies this limit by warping space and time, which means he can shrink the distance between two points, Dennin says. All of this happens in the upper atmosphere to avoid disruptive side effects on Earth, of course. In addition, “as you approach the speed of light, time slows down,” Dennin says, which makes it easier for the sleigh driver to deliver his gifts before sunrise.

Squeezing through chimneys is one thing; breaking and entering homes that don’t have a fireplace is another. Can Santa walk through walls? Not likely, Dennin says. Although it’s theoretically conceivable to pass through solid matter by deconstructing and reconstructing, the process is too time-consuming, he says. Ditto for picking locks. A more plausible scenario is that Santa possesses an Ant-Man-style ability to rapidly alter his size.

Father Christmas might lose an arm wrestling match against the Hulk, but that doesn’t mean he’s weak. For starters, consider the muscle power required to not only carry his massive bag of toys but leap up chimneys while doing so. Like the Hulk, who derives considerable strength from a supersized body, “Santa is a big guy,” Dennin says. “He fits that paradigm.” Fortunately, Kris Kringle isn’t cursed with the slight craziness that afflicts some other mega-strong heroes, he adds, “unless you consider trying to give toys to everyone on the planet crazy.”

Batman wears a belt equipped with technological gadgets. Iron Man zooms around in a weaponized suit. Santa’s fanciest accoutrement is a bottomless sack of toys–similar to Mary Poppins’ magic carpetbag or Oscar the Grouch’s trash can–which Dennin refers to as “an interdimensional portal.” To explain how such a container might work, he draws a circle on a piece of paper. “It looks two-dimensional,” Dennin says, “but it may be an opening to a fourth dimension.” If so, the inside of the sack could be bigger than the outside and allow storage of countless toys. “We have no idea what that would mean in physics,” he says, “but it is mathematically imaginable.”

Is Kris Kringle psychic? After all, he “sees you when you’re sleeping” and “knows if you’ve been bad or good.” If clairvoyance is the secret behind this extraordinary knowledge, then Santa’s paranormal abilities are vastly superior to those of Professor X, founder of the X-Men, who needs a special helmet to expand his telepathic range. However, Dennin theorizes that Santa is more like Big Brother: “I always thought he was spying, not psychic. He could be tapping into satellite and Internet systems to gather data. I think the modern era has only helped Santa’s behavior monitoring program.” If he can warp time, he easily could have traveled to the future and returned to the North Pole with 21st-century surveillance technology.

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