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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, Numbers

NUMBERS: Santa Math for 2016 Package Delivery


Children wearing Santa Claus costumes in Beijing, China. (photographer, Andy Wong)

We are less than 12 hours from Christmas Day! The last shipment deadline for the three major package delivery service providers – United States Postal Service (USPS), Federal Express (FedEx), and United Parcel Service (UPS) – has come and gone (December 23, 2016) with the exception of few and rare deliveries on Christmas Eve and Day. I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t include Santa’s sleigh with the above.

Since my one and only discussion about Santa’s wheels: What’s Powering Santa’s Sleigh This Christmas Eve?, was posted three years ago, I thought it would be a good time to check-in and see how St. Nick and his army of elves are doing. After all, they are supposedly responsible for delivery toys and gifts to girls and boys all over the world, and they have been doing so for over 1700 years in various modes. Not that you need to be reminded, but Santa begins his overnight delivery service on December 24, 2016 sometime around midnight. That’s tonight!

The question for shippers is how many packages will be delivered for this holiday season during the last two months of the calendar year? Here’s what the Big 3 package delivery service providers told us:

USPS projects that it will deliver 750 million packages this holiday season, or 5 million packages per day, up 12% from the roughly 670 million packages it delivered last year in November and December. Overall, the postal service projects it will deliver about 16 billion pieces of mail during the last six weeks of the year.

UPS expects to surpass 700 million packages delivered globally in the 25 days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. They have planned for record seasonal global delivery volume with an increase of more than 14 percent above the peak delivery period last year. The company and its customers benefit from two additional delivery days during 2016.

FedEx predicts it will move a record-breaking 317 million shipments between Black Friday and Christmas Eve. This forecast marks a 12.4 percent increase in year-over-year seasonal volume.


Surfer dressed as Santa Claus on Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia (Sonny Tumbelaka, photographer)

If these numbers astound you, know that these firms have prepared well in advance for their busiest shipping season. As examples:

    -USPS has added temporary processing facilities and technology to increase capacity, efficiency and flexibility.

-UPS opened 15 new or expanded hub facilities across the U.S. and will be using a sophisticated route navigation system, ORION, to reduce miles traveled even with more delivery stops and volume carried.

-FedEx has invested $2 billion in additional capacity for FedEx Ground. They have added 19 fully-automated and 4 major distribution hubs since last year, 6 non-conveyable annexes to handle over-sized packages, 30 new aircraft, and Enhanced Vision systems to 270 aircraft which will help pilots land in low visibility conditions.

Each outfit has increased its work force significantly with part-time workers to get the job done. Figuring out the number of packages that Santa will have onboard his sleigh was not as easy. Unlike the shipping companies, Santa’s outfit didn’t provide a news release or other content about the events leading up to his annual world tour.

In lieu of this missing data, I’m left to develop estimates for Santa’s package delivery service this Christmas Eve. First, keep in mind that Christmas is a Christian holiday that is focused on celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, however, it is also celebrated as a secular holiday in some places. In the United States, it is celebrated by many non-Christians, and other countries such as Uruguay and Angola call it “Family Day.” Jordan and Pakistan designate December 25th as an official holiday only for Christians. Traditions and celebrations are diverse throughout the world, but they most prominently feature gift-giving and togetherness.

That said, I relied on the Department of Census to get some stats for the current projected populations for the United States and the world. Census stats show that on Christmas Eve 2016 there are an estimated 325,184,000 persons living in the U.S. and roughly 7,360,800,000 worldwide. However, since Santa is only concerned with delivering presents to girls and boys, that eliminates most adults. I’m sure he periodically leaves gifts for adults, but only he decides who those persons are.

A vendor wears a Santa Claus mask to attract customers on a roadside in Ahmedabad

Vendor wearing Santa Claus mask in Ahmedabad, India (Amit Dave, photographer)

Relying on Census data again, I use information from their World Mid-year Population by Age and Sex for 2016 webpage. I decide that the cut-off age for children receiving gifts from Santa is 14 for this analysis. Adding up the ages of the world’s children from 0 to 14 years of age…the total is: 1,862,956,402.

So far, we have almost 2 billion children under the age of 14 in the world on Christmas Eve 2016, however, all are not Christian. Stated earlier, many who are not Christian participate in some form of Christmas symbolism, and all of those who are Christian don’t celebrate the holiday.  Aye-ya-yie! How does Santa figure this stuff out?

My next resource for useful data is the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, and has done some significant work in the area of religion and public life.

Here’s what I found:  Back in 2010, the Pew Research Center conducted a comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories. Data from this study assisted them in estimating that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.

In addition to the above, and based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers – the study found that back in 2010 there were 2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world. Fast forwarding to today, 31.4% of the world’s population is estimated to be Christian based on further refinement and adjustments of these numbers by the research center.

Filling in the blanks with a few basic assumptions, I make a direct correlation that 31.4% of the world’s population of children are also Christian. And if I multiply 31.4% (0.314) by the number of Christians in the world (1,862,956,402), that gives us about 585 million Christian children. Acknowledging that all Christian children do not participate in gift giving or exchanges (assumed a small number), and that around the world many non-Christians observe the Christmas holiday in some form, I am speculating that more than 31.4% of children receive gifts from Santa.

Speculating further, I am going to bump this number by 10% to 41.4% – and therefore, Santa has cargo for 771,300,000 children for Christmas 2016.


Christian children dresses as Santa Claus in Lahore, Pakistan (L.M. Chaudary, photographer)

Perhaps in another post, I’ll posit how Santa’s delivery system works. In the meantime, I do plan to study Dr. Matt Briggs’ (a statistics instructor at Cornell University and Professor of Santa Math) gift momentum and gift probability equations.

Just figuring out how many children are getting gifts was enough work for this Christmas Eve. Yet, I can’t help but be impressed by how this mythical person delivers in one night what the three major shippers do in six to eight weeks. Perhaps that is why it is called Santa math!

Merry Christmas everyone! Also, happy Hanukkah and Kwanza!


  1. The Global Religious Landscape, Demographic Study, Pew Research Center for Religion in Public Life, December 18, 2016, http://www.pewforum.org/2012/12/18/global-religious-landscape-exec/
  2. The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050, Demographic Study, Pew Research Center for Religion in Public Life, April 2, 2015, http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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