How Santa Claus Works

Naughty or Nice?

Santa waves as he water-skis on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.
Santa waves as he water-skis on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Santa Claus is one of the most popular and recognizable figures on Earth. He's been depicted in dozens of holiday-themed shows, from the 1947 film "Miracle on 34th Street" to the 1964 television special "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" to more recent films like "Elf" in 2003. Many countries have different names for him -- although he's Santa Claus in North America, he goes by Father Christmas in the United Kingdom, Père Noël in France, Babbo Natale in Italy and Sinterklaas in Holland, where he's associated with the Dec. 6 St. Nicholas Day celebration.

Whether you call him St. Nicholas, St. Nick or Santa Claus, though, the man represents the same thing to nearly everyone who celebrates Christmas and the holiday season -- he's known as a benevolent soul, a giver of gifts and a spreader of Christmas cheer.

According to Christmas folklore, Santa's main concern is making toys and distributing them in a timely and orderly fashion to children all over the world. This has garnered him quite a following. After all, children like toys, and Santa gives toys away -- therefore, children like Santa Claus.

Santa not only gives toys away, but he does it in style, too. He rides in his very own sleigh led by a team of reindeer, but it isn't just any old sleigh -- this one flies and rumor has it that it can make it around the world in just one night. It's also thought by some that Santa doesn't simply pass by your house and leave a few presents on your doorstep -- he lands on top of your roof, climbs down your chimney and puts presents both in your stockings and around your Christmas tree.

But where does Santa get all of these toys? Certainly one couldn't make or buy all of that merchandise by himself. That's where Santa's elves come in. It's possible that these little workers possess a drive and energy even the smallest of nanorobots couldn't match, so Santa would never have to worry too much about being behind in production.

There's a catch to Santa's good will, however. According to the classic Christmas song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," Santa's always watching: "He's making a list / he's checking it twice / he's gonna find out who's naughty or nice." A big part of his job is to keep an eye on your behavior over the course of the year -- if you've behaved well, there's a good chance you'll get what you want for Christmas. If your behavior was less than satisfactory, however, you risk getting nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking. How does he do this? Our best bet is that he's using something similar to Google Earth. Think of that, then fast-forward into the future a few hundred years.

In the next section, we'll explore what Santa might look like in person and we'll ponder some of the special gadgets and technologies he might use.