Boy, oh boy, that Santa Claus is quick on Christmas Eve. How can he make it to each house in the world in one night?! Naturally, Christmas magic is a huge help, but we’d like to think a little science comes into play, too.

Looks like the Big Guy uses the world’s time zones to his advantage to get his important job done. Let’s grab our Learning Resources Puzzle Globe to demonstrate how this works.

What is a time zone?

When the sun is shining high in the sky in your hometown, it means it’s nighttime on the other side of the world. When the earth spins slowly on its axis (the invisible line on which the world turns), we get our days and nights. Here, we shine a flashlight on one side of the globe to represent the sun. Looks like it’s night on the Earth’s opposite side.

All countries on Earth are divided up into time zones. These zones are roughly based on longitudinal bands. Big countries like Russia and the United States are divided into three or more zones, but several fall into just one.

While it seems like it would make sense there would be 24 time zones, the International Date Line (IDL) does create several more.

What is the International Date Line?

The International Date Line passes through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and follows an imaginary north-south line on the Earth. It is located halfway around the world from the prime meridian, which is 0° longitude in Greenwich, England

So what does this mean for Santa Claus?

According to the to the United State’s North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracker, Santa usually lifts off at the International Date Line and travels west. He begins delivering presents in New Zealand and makes his way to Japan, Asia, and Africa. Then the reindeer guide him toward Europe, Canada, the United States, and Mexico, then off to Central and South America.

Let’s get a visual

Using the NORAD model, let’s figure that Santa will enter the United States around bedtime on Christmas Eve. As he works his way east across the country, he will pass over each time zone, keeping him on schedule. Naturally speed helps him visit all these homes, but time zones work in his favor.

In the United States, there are six time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific, Alaska, and Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Times. With some ribbon, we separated the continental United States to show four of the major time zones.

With all these time zones set an hour a part from each other east-to-west, Santa can get his work done and still be home in time to feed the reindeer and give Mrs. Claus a hug in 24 hours. Go Santa!