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Since it's that time of year again, we need to look further into Santa's delivery mechanisms.

We've discovered over the years that Santa is breaking a few laws, ignoring minor matters like IP laws and air traffic control. We have greater issues with him largely ignoring some of the fundamental laws of physics.

The sound you notice of Santa's arrival is a shuffling in the chimney and a faint HO HO HO, that means he'll have to stay below the speed of sound. He also needs to spend enough time in each house to drink a glass of sherry, eat a mince pie, and at about 1 house in 100, get caught kissing mommy under the mistletoe. All without accelerating so fast up the chimney the g forces cause him to pass out.

All in all, how many Santas are required to complete the delivery round?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Dec 23 '18 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ The movie Arthur Christmas should give you an interesting perspective on this topic. $\endgroup$ – Arturo Torres Sánchez Dec 24 '18 at 15:53

12 Answers 12

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Quantum Theory to the Rescue

Santa is — of course — not breaking any physical laws. Bending a few maybe, but not breaking.

As we all know quantum theory clearly states that the position of Santa is not known until it is measured. So Santa really is in easy reach of everywhere(!), all the time. OK, maybe not inside black holes or beyond the cosmic horizon, but easily everywhere on Earth.

Santa simply gets to appear wherever a "measurement" of Santa is made. To measure Santa you require :

  • Milk, a glass of (or a cup if you cannot get a glass; it is the thought that counts)
  • Mince pie or cookie (or a tasty replacement if no MPie is available. Again, it is the thought that counts)
  • The all-important letter to Santa. Santa prefers letters in crayon but will take whatever the writer has to hand as long as it is not something nasty.

Although early experimenters thought a chimney was required, the modern quantum interpretation of Santa clearly shows that Santa is not hampered (no pun intended) by walls or anything material in the way. This explains why (good) children inside apartments with no chimneys still get a visit from Santa.

A Santa measurement typically results in mysterious consumption of the foodstuffs and (possibly, if you are good) that Santa may drop a present when he (or she, maybe the beard is a disguise?) is passing through.

Santa interacts strangely with photons, so trying to see Santa can lead to erroneous measurements. For example, Santa can appear to be someone else. Scientists speculate that Santa has a device which creates some kind of cloaking field (something we now know is possible!) which can cause these effects. So whoever you think you see drinking the milk and eating those cookies is actually an illusion and it was Santa all along.

Being good (all year!) significantly increases the probability of a successful outcome to the experiment. Being bad can have a very negative effect. So let us be good.

All of this means that only one Santa is required to visit everywhere, although currently it is beyond our technical ability to be sure of the actual number. It may also be that Santas — like electrons — are indistinguishable so we could not tell individual Santas apart anyway; investigations are ongoing.

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    $\begingroup$ Does this not create a problem when NORAD does their yearly Santa tracking? $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Dec 21 '18 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelK I think we need to accept that NORAD is a very secret organization and they actively try to disguise their true capabilities - we only have NORADs word for what they can and cannot do. Also we, the public, cannot be sure that Santa does not actively cooperate with government institutions. It's also in Santa's interest to promote a public image which may not reflect the true facts (just like those sneaky electrons pretended to be ordinary particles until science improved to the point we could prove they were sneaky waves and particles !). $\endgroup$ – StephenG Dec 21 '18 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ Forgive my layman's understanding of quantum physics, but bad children still get coal which (AFAIK?) is still delivered by Santa (proud to say I've never actually received coal myself!) So I wouldn't think goodness or badness would affect the probability of a successful Santa measurement too much, although it would certainly impact the "Schrodinger's Coal" factor when opening the aforementioned present. $\endgroup$ – Steve-O Dec 21 '18 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve-O It's early days for Quantum Santa Theory (QST) but there could be an alternative "Coal Santa" existing as a supposition of states with "Present Santa" with a hypothetical "goodness" field deciding which state is measured, or more simply one Santa may simply determine whose been good or bad in some way. It's worth noting darker theories that S.A.N.T.A. may be an organization with a vast surveillance network operating 24/7 - certainly rumors of this have persisted for years. Governments may actively cooperate with this and we're only now realizing the sophistication of this operation. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Dec 21 '18 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy you know the old saying - "Give a man fish and he'll be fed for the day. Teach a man to fish and he'll be fed for the rest of his days"? Well, Santa did exactly that - you were supposed to use the remote controlled car to sneak by the miners and take as much coal as you wanted. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 21 '18 at 21:24
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All in all, how many Santas are required to complete the delivery round?

To answer this complex question, we have to take into account the roots of the obviously false rumor that Santa in an imaginary creature, while we know he is real.

We have also to consider that square minds do not meet Santa, at all.

Whoever spread that rumor based it only on a single word he/she heard and, being unable to go further, went to the wrong conclusion.

Based on the above, the number of Santas in the world is

$1 \ + \ i$

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    $\begingroup$ I dread to think what happened when someone took sqrt(-Santa). That has to hurt! $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 21 '18 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix as a Christian saint, he is also a martyr. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 21 '18 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @vlaz St Nicholas is actually unusual in being one of the few early Saints who wasn't Martyred. By the time of his death Christianity was not just mainstream in the Roman Empire, but actively practiced by the Emperor (although it wouldn't become the "Official" religion for about 40 years) $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Dec 21 '18 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ I don't want to be a party pooper, but this doesn't seem to really answer the question. It kinda reads like a joke answer. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 21 '18 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ Santa isn't a Christian saint, even though he is sometimes confused with that St. Nicholas fellow. (Obviously a case of mistaken identity - they don't even look that much alike.) After all, he associates with pagan beings like elves, which no good Christian would do, and he brings presents to non-Christian children. The more doctrinaire Christian sects even disavow him - see numerous hits for "true meaning of Christmas" :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 21 '18 at 17:44
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For the US, about 300,000.

There are about 336,900 federal postal delivery workers in the US. Their job description is: "Sort mail for delivery. Deliver mail on established route by vehicle or on foot."

They already use fairly optimized routes, so Santa will probably follow essentially the same routes/procedures (if a postal worker is on foot, probably it will be faster for Santa to be on foot, too, rather than trying to navigate with eight nine reindeer, no matter how tiny).

Santa does have some advantages. 1) The sleigh does not get stuck in traffic, because it is flying. 2) Parking is no problem for Santa. 3) Santa does not have to sort, the elves do this.

Also, Santa does not have to worry about hiring extra Santas to cover for sick leave/vacation/etc., so the total number can be lower.

On the other hand, Santa must eat the cookies and drink the milk (in the US), and sometimes kiss Mommy. I'm going to say this pretty much cancels out all of the advantages. So we need ~300,000 Santas to cover the US.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great start - can you extend that answer to the rest of the world? Something more accurate than multiplying by 23.1 (7.53 bill / 326 mill, which is the global population / US population ) ? $\endgroup$ – Criggie Dec 23 '18 at 21:09
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Around 1000 for each region of your tradition. That amount is needed for conservative breeding and to keep from inbreeding. You need those Santas be able to consume sherry, minced pie or cookies and milk. Or to be able to control Krampuses.

A little edit for different sense of humour folks.

Santus christmasus is mammal well known for it's red fur and distinct call "Ho Ho Ho" that can be heard when Santus go for feeding. Their usual feeding time is during last week of December but due to global warming they can be spotted out as early as late November when they try to get some food from small children. There are few species of this mammal usually distinguished by their food habits. Americanus jollyus have a digestive tract able to digest lactose and large quantities of sugars while Brittanius fatherus is able to live on alcohol and potatoes.

Often, but inaccurate, Ded Moroz is put in the same Genus but they only share same family.

santuses are animals that live in strong and close symbiosis with humans relaying strongly on finding food in homes. As they are very social creatures they "trade" presents for food. Kind like crows.

The amount of santas needed in certain region is based on the fact that we didn't noticed a large deviation in santas build or behaviours that would be the results of inbreeding. Rather fast accommodation to changing environment.

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    $\begingroup$ -1 for making things up without even a frivolous/humorous connection to reality. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Dec 21 '18 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ Well, If you don't think breeding different types of santas depending on folklore is funny. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Dec 21 '18 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ You consider Santas to be a separate breeding species? Since they're always with elves I would have considered them like clownfish where should a group of elves lose its Santa the largest elf would undergo hormonal changes to grow into a new Santa. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 21 '18 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps, while Commercialitis was initially considered a subspecies, it turned out that it was a condition a wild Santa could catch as a result of a shopping mall being built on their natural habitat. It's a very unfortunate condition where the Santa loses their natural fear of being seen, there is as yet no known cure. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 21 '18 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps, we're aware of the Santus because its natural range runs well into the temperate zones and further during winter. Human expansion has forced them so far north that wild examples are mostly only known in places like Lapland and up to the North Pole but that's a consequence of displacement. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 21 '18 at 21:42
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Only one

Santa uses the S̶p̶e̶e̶d̶ Santa Force to accomplish all of this. Sure, it's a single night but he is effectively manipulating time as needed to accomplish everything. A single night for you or me could be an entire year for Santa. In fact, due to the nature of the Santa Force, he is able to travel so fast, he is arriving before leaving and doing other slightly irregular tasks. That also requires a bit of an irregular pattern on his behalf:

  • it is plain odd to go from house to house in sequence. We have many Christmas m̶o̶v̶i̶e̶s̶ documentaries showing that after he leaves a house, he takes off into the sky...instead of going to the next house over. This is because he needs to go elsewhere and then comes back to the same city/neighborhood later. For us, it could be about five minutes, but for him, it might be days which he spent going through different regions of the world one house at a time.
  • The Santa Force also allows him to enter "normal" timeflow just before getting to a house. That's why people can sometimes see him arrive and/or enter. As opposed to to detecting a sonic boom and a brief blur that probably sweeps away the insides of the house due to the speed with which it moves.
  • The Santa Force allows him to arrive at a new destination before he leaves another. Which is why he manages to go around the world - he's not just super fast in transit, then normal speed for the presents delivery, then super fast in transit. That way he still wouldn't have enough time. Instead, once Santa Leaves, he has already arrived at a new destination and delivering the presents there. The travel is to "catch up" with himself. Yes, that does make it seem like there are multiple Santas at work but the Santa Force actually allows a single person to exist at two places at the same time at once as long as the person is supposed to be there. So, instead of doing A -> travel to B -> B -> travel to C -> C you actually do A, B, C -> travel to B -> travel to C.
  • So now we can also see why Santa wouldn't go to each house in sequence. Having (what looks like) 20 Santas climbing into the chimneys of 20 houses on one street is a bit unsettling. Hence why instead Santa would go through 20 chimneys at the same time but they are different cities. Well, actually it's a lot more chimneys but I'm getting the idea across. He then ensures he doesn't arrive at the same place at the same time by jumping around the globe.
  • All this traveling, physical effort, maintaining the Santa Force, and not the least of which route planning is quite tiring. Hence why he needs the nourishment provided by the offerings of food and drink.
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    $\begingroup$ So, he takes off to travel back in time at a suitable distance from civilisation? Avoids birds or other animals accidentally accompanying him, and limits impact of the Temporal Boom (Much worse than a Sonic Boom. Why did you think Christmas Morning always takes so long to arrive?) $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Dec 21 '18 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ Let us not forget that Santa is traveling so fast that he can simply clip through walls and deliver the presents with no collision being registered - $\endgroup$ – X-27 Dec 22 '18 at 20:41
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It's simply not possible for one guy unless he has supernatural abilities. But what if he enlists numerous look-a-likes?

This will be hard to achieve. Ideally, the stereotype would be a Caucasian male around 60+ years old, with long white beard and sufficiently obese figure. If we can be less picky about the stereotype and perhaps allow fake beards and various figures, we get a much larger population of look-a-like candidates.

Dropping the criteria that he is Caucasian and male would help even more. In addition, this would help to overcome local, cultural differences, making the look-a-like blend in better.

But how to recruit enough numbers and also make them work for free over Christmas? To cover the whole part of the world that celebrates Christmas, we are talking of many millions of Santas! The wage cost would be astronomical.

The idea I came up with is to enlist parents who have little children, then have the parents dress up as Santa, with fake beard and red clothes. Each such look-a-like Santa takes care of their own family, free of charge. This reduces logistics tremendously! Nobody has to travel around at all!

This is much more environmentally-friendly than having reindeer sleighs travel all over the world. While they are certainly better for the environment than cars, we would need to grow massive amounts of Cladonia rangiferina for reindeer fuel and distribute it all over the world. At the expense of increased greenhouse gases. That without taking methane-based reindeer farts in account. The best is to skip the reindeer all together.

So with volunteer parents dressing up as Santa, without sleighs and reindeers, we get the enormous benefit of having free, environmentally-friendly, localized Santas all over the world.

The down side of this idea is that parents would have to lie to their children and pretend to be Santa. In addition, children are quite likely to recognize their own parents and see through the lie. In fact, I always thought Santa looked very much like my own dad...

Oh. My. God.

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  • $\begingroup$ Santa is usually the colour of the local people. He's magic that way. $\endgroup$ – Trevor D Dec 21 '18 at 17:18
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There is only one Santa, but he's (massively) parallel, not sequential, and is therefore able to be in multiple places simultaneously.

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    $\begingroup$ St Nicholas (4th century Bishop of Myra) was in fact known to perform the miracle of bilocation -- being in more than one place at once. I believe Santa Claus is his cousin or something. Maybe it ran in the family. $\endgroup$ – workerjoe Dec 21 '18 at 19:11
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13,194,445

There are over 7.6 billion people in the world. Lets say on average each house has 4 people (statistical data). If Santa spends an average of 10 minutes in each home, and we figure time between homes to be negligible because he goes directly to the neighbors house, then there are about 13,194,445 Santas.

  • Houses = 7600000000/4 = 1900000000
  • Minutes in a day = 24 * 60 = 1440
  • Houses per day = 1440/10 = 144
  • Santas needed = 1900000000/144 = 13194445
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    $\begingroup$ Santa can't take all 24 hours of the day delivering presents in any location, and moving west to stay in the night time then travel time (and method) become non-negligible. So I'd double or triple the required numbers. (Also means that each Santa has only a few days per year to work out how to compromise the perimeter security of each house that Santa is responsible for, given that most houses are not wood heated (<2% in the USA) and even those with wood heating rarely have human-navigable chimneys. +1 for the numbers. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Dec 22 '18 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ your math assumes the entire world population celebrates Christmas. We know this is not true - indeed, even of those who celebrate some do so in January - so you could probably divide your data by 3 (about 1/3rd population celebrate) and then take into account the populations of various regions and religions that celebrate later or earlier (Russian Orthodox I know celebrate in Jan.) to further reduce the number of Santas needed $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Dec 23 '18 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ looking at the self-reported numbers of some of these groups gives around (310 million) so the actual population for December would be around 2.5 billion $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Dec 23 '18 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ My assumption is that Santa is a non Christian entity who delivers presents to people all around the world. The Santa I learned about as a child had nothing to do with religion. Christmas was the day you got presents from Santa and so did everyone else. $\endgroup$ – takintoolong Dec 23 '18 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I grew up in Florida so the chimney thing is irrelevant. Adults would use other excuses like, "he has his ways", "he is magic", "through the window", or "through the key hole". $\endgroup$ – takintoolong Dec 24 '18 at 6:52
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Number of Santas = (Number of Households * Calories consumed at each household)
                    ----------------------------------------------------------
                             Number of Calories a Santa needs

Google searching for "Calories in a mince pie" yields 289, Sweet Sherry gives 68, and a half glass of skim milk is around 60 Calories. We can leave out carrots for the Reindeer because Santa won't be eating those. Not all households will approve of - or be able to afford - alcohol, but we assume that all relevant households will offer something to Santa if they can, which is where the small glass of milk comes in; that gives a range 60 - 400 Calories which Santa is known to consume per household. Most of the world is poorer than the USA, but most people are kind, so err on the lower side but not right at the low end. Say 150 Calories consumed per household visit.

The WikiPedia page "List of countries by number of households" sums to 1,587,890,386. Not all households have children, and this perfectly servicable blog post suggests that 20% of adults in the USA live alone (20% of household); 8% live with only a partner (each partner counted halves that number to 4% of households), round that to 25% and then handwave it to 15% globally because childbirth and population growth declines with the wealth of a country and globally it will be more households with children than the USA. Knock 15% off the household count Santa needs to visit, for "no children" as an estimate. 1.348 Billion.

And not all children are good - but Stephen Pinker and Hans Rosling have both argued that the world is a better place than media presents, including living conditions, treatment of children, and education. It seems that should translate to fewer life stressors, more coping strategies, and therefore better behaved children than in the past, so that won't change the number of households Santa visits in a significant way compared to the low precision of the estimate of childfree households, so no change to the numbers here.

Without wishing to get too personal, Santa is a generously proportioned fellow - 300lbs if he's an ounce. But he neither turns morbidly obese nor stick thin year after year. And old enough to have a white beard, but not old enough to retire, puts him in his mid 60s, and nobody would dispute that he has a very active job. Assume he is an average height or slightly above and this Calorie Calculator says he should consume ~4,100 Calories per day to maintain weight. He could push that in a day - but not far enough to be ill, and mince pies are quite rich. Say 50% more.

1.348 Billion households * 150 Calories / 6200 Calories in a day = 35 Million Santas

35 Million Santas is almost the population of Canada, and the world population is made up of almost 0.5% Santa.

This may seem a surprisingly large number, but it is not far from agreement with @user3067860 who calculated 300,000 for the USA alone based on the postal service. We have a number 100x more than that, but there are almost 200x more countries than USA - many with less dense population centers and less well developed postal routes and more households.

@takintoolong calculates 13 Million based on number of households, but assumes delivery can take 24 hours and @KerrAvon2055 comments a doubling or tripling of the numbers, which brings it into the same ballpark.


It could be, of course, that the concept of "one Santa" and "multiple Santas" doesn't apply in the same way as to the rest of us. One Santa, multiple bodies. Many models for such an organism have been speculated about - technologically such as The Borg Hivemind or Peter F. Hamilton's "Multiple Person", biologically in reality with the mycorrhizal connections of "one fungus" underground, or theologically with the Christian Holy Trinity of one Deity and three instantiations. Perhaps Santa requires a new proposal of this kind?

But, at least on Christmas Eve night, there are enough Santas to sink a battleship.

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There is one santa but for each person that comes on earth Santa has an algorithm that allows him to predict the outcome of the life of that person combined with its interaction with other people in order to know exactly how many people needs a gift and where and when to bring that gift.

Also this algorithm works together with a special device which creates another him by using his own DNA to create another version of him in a similar way that Mitsuki from Boruto has been created. But this technology creates other santas fast.

So Santa has been there the whole time with synthetic forms of himself with an algorithm matching the possibilities needed to satisfy all new humans born each day before Christmas.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! We're glad you could join us! When you have a moment, please click here to learn more about our culture and take our tour. Are you assuming that no matter how many clones you have of Santa, there's only one Santa? I'm not sure if that meets the intent of the question. How many clones would be required? One per person on the planet who isn't on the naughty list? $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 22 '18 at 23:50
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Santa is the leader of an organization of elves, which all do the delivery

An interesting explanation to how Santa Claus works can be seen in the 2011 film Arthur Christmas. While the film itself includes tons of scifi/fantasy elements, I think it accurately represents how many people need to be involved in such a large event as Christmas around the world.

Santa, along with the elves, travel from city to city in a giant aircraft, where the elves simultaneously deliver all gifts on every house and building in the matter of seconds. Of course, each elf intentionally leaves some "evidence" by biting the cookies and drinking the milk, to keep the illusion of Santa.

Now, for the actual time to travel, they have 26 hours to do their routine (if they truly do visit every place in the world, you have to consider time zones range from UTC-14 to UTC+12). And they don't have to do it exactly at midnight, or at a specific time, as long as the children are asleep. They have some margin to plan their route more efficiently (but I won't go into the details of the Travelling Salesman Problem).

Additionally, aside from the elves doing the delivery, there are more elves monitoring everything at the North Pole, guaranteeing that every kid in the world receives their assigned gift, as well as checking which traditions to follow in every land they visit, and also making sure they go unnoticed (yes, this involves breaking the law).

For the number itself of elves... It's not clear how many there are, but it's easy to estimate them in the thousands or tens of thousands.

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The relatively more recently established League of Extraordinary Santas and the ancient Order of Saint Nicholas have a varying and undisclosed number of members.

Having rescued a large number of pygmy tribes people (now know as the Emancipated Little Folk) sometime in the past had boosted their numbers even further than what some would estimate.

Due to the secretive nature of all three groups, accurate numbers are impossible to estimate.

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