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Granite Geek: How Big is Santa's Workshop?

Right now Santa and his elves are working hard to build presents in time for Christmas. To build toys for all the good boys and girls on the nice list, how big would Santa’s workshop actually have to be? Granite Geek David Brooks did some "research" on this very question. He writes for The Concord Monitor and He spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello.

David, unfortunately you were not given a tour of Santa's workshop, so you just have to take some educated guesses, right?

That’s right. I couldn’t get my security clearance in time.

I’m so sorry to hear that.

Yeah it was very sad, very sad.

Let's first look at the demand side of the equation. How many kids do you think are celebrating Christmas with presents from Santa this year?

Well, as you say, I had to make some educated guesses, which is fancy talk for wild guesses, made up numbers pulled out of the air. But that’s what mathematical modeling and business protections are all about. So, I thought, well, you know, how many people on Earth celebrate Christmas, how about a third of the population? Half of those are kids, so that ends up with roughly 1.2 billion children who Santa has to build presents for over the course of the year; Santa’s elves that is, the actual working class of the North Pole.

Okay, so huge demand.

Yes, exactly.

And you also had to an assumption then about how many elves there need to be and how much space each elf is going to need.

Right, you know, business reporters, the first two questions your ask your business are what’s your FTE, your full time equivalent, your headcount, and what’s the square footage of your operation, that’s pretty standard. So, I assumed that first of all the Santa would only give one present to each kid, which is probably the most unrealistic assumption of the whole model. And I assumed that he’s a nice employer and not a naughty one, so the elves work a forty hour week and a fifty week year, because they get two weeks off.

Plus an hour for lunch?

Yeah I assume there is uhhh, you know, I didn’t factor in the food.

Aww, jeez.

Oh my God, I have to redo all the equations, sorry I’ll go home now.


Now, anyway. So, that’s two thousand work hours a year per elf, and if you need to build 1.2 billion presents, one present for each kid, that works out to—600,000 presents have to be built every hour.

600,000 every hour?

Every hour.

Wow. How much space does each elf need?

I actually went for the data of course like a good reporter. I went and OSHA regulations and other federal work regulations, I assume the US standards might apply in the North Pole, but I couldn’t actually find any data for mythological humanoids, so I just assume that since elves are small and they’re magic they only need one square foot each, plus maybe one more square foot for their cafeteria—so I guess I did think about food actually—per cafeteria, and their bathrooms, I didn’t really get into the bathroom thing much. So, that was two square feet per elf.

Overall, how big would it be, and, if you could, put it in context for us. Is there something you can compare it so, since most of us haven’t been up there to see this?

Well, you get a workshop of 1.2 million square feet. But, that’s just the workshop.

As any manufacturing business will tell you, it’s really storage warehousing that is really the problem. Because you can’t build, you know, all 1.2 billion presents instantly and shove them all into the magic bag. So, you have to store them as you build them, so you need a warehouse. And if I said, again I assumed that each toy occupied one cubic foot, so that’s 1.2 billion cubic feet. If said it was a 20 foot tall warehouse, that takes sixty million square feet, which if you add the workspace on it, the workshop, that’s sixty-one point two million square feet, which is about 2.2 square miles—which is monstrous, admittedly, but it’s not impossible.

So, to compare it, I looked for really large structures. One of them was the Dubai International Airport—you know, there in the Gulf, one of those extremely rich Gulf states, it’s built an enormous, incredible airport—and it’s got 12 million square feet. The Pentagon, that lovely building down in D. C., 6.6 million square feet, and Steeplegate Mall in Concord, which has 481,000 square feet of retail space.

So you add all that together and I estimate that Santa’s workshop, including the warehouse, is equivalent to four Dubai Airports, two Pentagons, and a Steeplegate Mall.

And a partridge in a pear tree.

No partridges, no pear trees, this is the North Pole.

You can see the Dubai Airport, you can see the Steeplegate Mall from the air, but you can’t see Santa’s workshop from satellite images. What’s going on there?

Ah, that’s a good question, and that’s really the secret of Christmas these days in the internet era, because it seems that Santa and along with all his other things, has developed the thing we all want most, which is the ability to be anonymous, even in the internet satellite era. So, he’s got this massive facility up there that nobody can see, and that is what I am going to ask for for Christmas from Santa every year from now on, the ability to be anonymous.

You know, it seems so unfair, because he can see me when I’m sleeping, he can see me when I’m awake, he knows when I’ve been bad or good, but we can’t see him.

Nobody said life was fair. He is definitely part of the one percent.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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