The unique and extremely popular [citation needed] authority on pop culture since 2008

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written by Sam Greenspan

The formula for perfect tree decorations, the injuries from Home Alone, psychological tricks for good gift giving and so much more.

A few days ago, I posted a list of 11 Photos That Prove Christmas and Sex Don’t Mix. And I am nothing if not anti-fornicating, pro-science.

So today, I’ve gathered 11 different recent studies that have found seamless ways to blend Christmas and math and/or science. And sure, most of them debunk some part of the Christmas story, but not in a malicious way — more in a “The More You Know” kind of way. So have yourself an analytical Christmas and a quantitative New Year.

1 | What’s the formula for the perfectly decorated Christmas tree?

A team at the University of Sheffield in England figured out four quick mathematical formulas you can use to maximize your tree’s visual appeal…

Number of ornaments – Height in inches of the tree divided by two. (So for a six-foot tree, it would be 36 ornaments.)

Amount of tinsel – Height of the tree times five. (Six-foot tree would need 30 feet of tinsel.)

Amount of lights – Height of the tree times three. (Six-foot tree would need 18 feet of lights.)

Size of the star on top – Height of the tree divided by 10. (Six-foot tree would need a star about seven inches tall.)

The only one I disagree with is tinsel. The formula SHOULD be height of the tree times zero. Because tinsel is never involved in beauty. (Source)

2 | How many presents per second does Santa have to deliver?

Based on approximately 760 million stop around the world in a pretty tight 24-hour window he has, Santa would need to deliver presents about 8,796 homes per second. He must be so appreciative of tract housing.

Also, over the course of the night, assuming he eats two cookies per household, that’s about 300 calories per house. At 760 million stops, that’s 228,000,000,000 calories, or a weight gain of 65,142,857 pounds. Although be probably burns off a decent amount of that running in and out of almost 9,000 houses every second. (Source)

3 | How much would it cost to buy everything from The 12 Days of Christmas?

If you’ve ever thought about buying everything from The 12 Days of Christmas — because flooding your house with birds and laborers is romantic — PNC Bank has calculated the cost.

This year, it would cost you $25,431.18 to buy everything from the song one time. But if you interpret the lyrics strict constructionist style, you have to re-buy the previous days’ gifts every subsequent day. (Like, on the third day, you don’t just give three French hens, you also give two new turtle doves and another partridge in a pear tree.) And that would cost $107,300.24. Here’s the breakdown…

A partridge in a pear tree. The partridge is $15, the pear tree is $189.99.

Two turtle doves. $125, or $62.50 per dove.

Three French hens. $165, or $55 per hen.

Four calling birds. $519.96, or $129.99 each.

Five gold rings. $750, or $150 per ring.

Six geese-a-laying. $210, or $35 per goose.

Seven swans-a-swimming. This is the most expensive item on the list, $7,000, or $1,000 per swan.

Eight maids-a-milking. $58 — or each one getting one hour of minimum wage, $7.25. You have to supply the cows, which aren’t included in this price.

Nine ladies dancing. $6,294.03, or just under $700 per person.

Ten lords-a-leaping. $4,766.70, or $476.67 each.

Eleven pipers piping. $2,562, or $232.90 each.

Twelve drummers drumming. $2,775.50, or $231.30 each.

The lords-a-leaping seem the most overpriced. You’re telling me you couldn’t find some dudes to come over to your house and jump around for less than $476 each? Come on. Jumping isn’t, like, a commodity. (Source)

4 | Could the Three Wise Men have followed a star to Bethlehem?

As the story goes (or at least I think it goes through what I’ve heard in pop culture), the Three Wise Men followed a miracle star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to bring presents to the baby Jesus. An astronomy expert actually looked at star charts from December 25th, 0001 to figure out if that would’ve been possible. Short answer: No. Long answer…

Following Sirius day and night – If they’d followed the brightest star in the sky at night, then kept walking toward where it was during the day, they would’ve walked south in a corkscrew pattern… and just missed Bethlehem. If they walked long enough, it would’ve taken them toward the South Pole.

Following Sirius only when it’s visible – They would’ve juuust missed Bethlehem and ultimately ended up making circles around Botswana.

Following Mars – If they followed a planet, not a star, and picked Mars, they would’ve missed Bethlehem, ultimately made it to the Himalayas, and then stopped somewhere in western India.

Following Venus (with access to a boat) – If they’d followed Venus it would’ve taken them all over the world with their gifts and, deliciously, would’ve finally dumped them in the North Pole.

So the conclusion is that no, the Three Wise Men could not really have followed a star from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. But I’m fairly sure that’s not the point of that story anyway, at least not the way the California Raisins tell it. (Source)

5 | How many employees would Santa need to make deliveries?

Assuming Santa really can make it to every Christian house in the world in one night, here’s the support staff he’d need…

46 distribution centers where he could reload around the world. He’d need about 400,000 workers total at those centers, 180,000 workers flying presents into those centers, and 3.36 million workers driving more presents to the centers.

67,100 workers constantly tweaking and optimizing flight plans and coordinating with the FAA.

40,000 workers helping him clear customs efficiently.

500,000 workers covering HR, accounting and other support departments.

7,300,900 workers on general assignment.

Which means he’d need a total of almost 12 million workers to make that happen. Distributing gifts to everyone, wearing red, long beard like a hippie, insanely large number of employees and random departments — this guy’s totally in the tank for Obama. (Source)

6 | Why is Rudolph’s nose red?

A study from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the University of Tromso in Norway figured this one out. Turns out reindeer have about 25 percent more red blood cells than humans in their noses. And Rudolph would’ve been om the high end for reindeers — making his nose so warm it had a slight red tint. As for why he got excluded by the other reindeer beforehand, that probably has something to do with their affiliation to Ben Affleck. (Source)

7 | Can you use game theory in a gift exchange with present stealing?

Two game theorists in Santa Clara, California took a look at the gift exchange/stealing format (sometimes called Yankee Swap) to see if there’s a way to get an edge. If you’re not familiar, this is where everyone brings a gift and draws a random number. You go through the numbers in order with each person either unwrapping a new gift or stealing a gift from a person who already picked. There’s a maximum number of times each gift can be stolen (usually twice).

And they concluded that yes, there is potential some strategy — assuming you’re going for presents based purely on their value and not for what they actually are. Basically, the earlier in the game you pick, the more open you have to be to stealing if you see something valuable. And the only person in the game who truly gets screwed is the second person — because usually the first person also gets a chance at the end to steal something.

Of course, none of this takes into account the real strategy — which is downplaying your excitement over a gift you like, trying to hide it behind a chair or couch so people forget to steal it, or making an under-the-table deal with a few other people to enter into a mutual stealing agreement to land the best stuff. But that’s not math, that’s deviousness. (Source)

8 | Why do stores all constantly play Christmas music?

It turns out that Christmas music has a subliminal effect of making us spend money. A study by Washington State University found…

“We’ve shown that ‘holiday appropriate’ music combined with congruent ‘holiday scents’ can influence shoppers by increasing the amount of time they spend in a store, their intention to revisit it, and intention to purchase… [especially] slower tempo music, [which] slows down shoppers.”

Which means Silent Night is secretly colluding with Macy’s to get you to buy a digital picture frame. (Source)

9 | What real injuries would’ve happened in Home Alone?

One of the great Christmas movies of the modern era (even though it came out 22 years ago) featured household and Christmas items turned into weaponry. A doctor from Cornell looked into what kind of physical damage the Wet Bandits would’ve sustained if the movie were real and not a live-action version of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon…

BB gun to the groin – Not bad. Wouldn’t have had enough power to pierce Harry’s (Joe Pesci) genitals through the fabric.

BB gun to the forehead – With the close range it would’ve broken Marv’s (Daniel Stern) skin, but not pierced the skull.

Iron to the face – A four-pound steam iron dropped 15 feet directly to Marv’s face would be enough to fracture the bones around the eyes, leading to potential severe disfigurement.

Burning doorknob – Since it’s glowing red, it would have to be 751 degrees Fahrenheit. 155 degrees would be enough to cause third-degree burns. When Harry grabbed it, he probably would’ve lost his hand, or at least rendered it permanently useless.

Blowtorch to the scalp – Because Harry just takes the blowtorch for seven seconds, it would be enough to go from a second-degree burn to necrosis of the calavarium. That would mean his skull was so damaged he’d need a transplant.

Walking on Christmas ornaments – Fairly insignificant damage to Marv. Stepping on the three-inch nail was worse.

Paint can to the face Both Harry and Marv take paint cans to the face. The cans are about 10 pounds, swung on 10 feet of rope. That’s enough to fracture several bones in the face, knock out teeth, and cause concussions.

Shovel to the back of the head – Somehow a light aluminum shovel knocked both of the Wet Bandits out. That’s just not possible, especially with the superhuman pain tolerance they’ve both demonstrated.

So, the conclusion is: Marv’s entire face would be shattered, Harry would lose his hand and need a skull transplant and both would be missing teeth and concussed. And the NFL would still want them to play the Thursday night game. (Source)

10 | How can you use psychology to help your gift giving?

There have been a few psychological studies into gift giving. Here are the takeaways…

Don’t give a small gift with a big gift. A big gift looks better on its own. When you bundle it with a smaller gift, it makes the big gift look worse and the small gift is forgotten. People tend to average the prices of the gifts rather than look at them as a total. (Source)

Buy off a person’s wish list. When someone gets a gift they really want, they don’t care how much thought and effort went into buying it. (Source)

But… emphasize how much thought went into things. No matter what you get, try to have a thoughtful explanation behind it. Like, “I bought you this bathroom mat because I remember you once told me you heard 80,000 people slip in bathrooms every year and I remembered that.” All of a sudden you just made a bathroom mat into something thoughtful. (Source)

It’s ok to regift. As long as you don’t regift someone a present they once gave you, most people are fine with getting a recycled gift. (Source)

Got it? Good. I think if you order from Amazon today and do one-day shipping you can still make up for all your mistakes.

11 | What will people eat at Christmas dinner in the future?

A food science expert looked at where Christmas dinner could go. With the population rising and people living longer, he believes that’s going to mean far more genetically engineered food. With animals like cows producing too much methane and causing environmental problems, he believes we’ll turn to insects for protein. And with the fish being overfished into oblivion, we’re going to turn to other sea life that hasn’t been. So here’s your Christmas dinner as soon as 2050…


Smoked jellyfish and genetically-engineered salmon with chemical creme fraiche.

Main course:

Faux-turkey created with a 3-D food printer, stuffed with an insect-based sausage.

Kangaroo bacon and vegetable oil bacon.

Modified brussel sprouts made with more digestible sugars.

Hey, look — totally regular potatoes.


Pie made with genetically-modified high-yield wheat, artificial sweeteners, and nuts that have been modified to eliminate allergies.

Not going to lie: I could really go for some kangaroo bacon right now. I could probably pass on the insect-based sausage. Also, for what it’s worth, when I was Googling this, I learned that Christmas 2050 will be on a Sunday. So plan your jellyfish harvests accordingly. (Source)

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