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Santa Claus can be found in cultures throughout the world, based on legends and real historical figures. Though some choose to not even believe he exists, to many, Santa is a figure of goodwill and the personification of Christmas cheer. His presence has frequently been traced back to a monk named St. Nicholas, born in Turkey around 280 A.D. but descriptions that define or match his likeness have evolved considerably. 

At AnalyticsIQ, we take a research-based approach to data creation to uncover behavioral patterns and characteristics to help us better understand people – from who they are, what they do, why they do so, to even predict what they will do in the future. 

Understanding an individual’s professional and personal overlapping is an area of research we have given considerable focus, and the mystery of Santa Claus is one of the great riddles of our time… So, as the curious researchers that we are, we started to ask ourselves: 

  • How is he able to select such special gifts for people with such unique tastes? 
  • How has he avoided a traffic accident with a plane or storm all these years? 
  • What is his current job title and primary role within his organization?
  • Should we allow him to continue to break and enter millions of homes each year? 

We gathered the available information to answer these questions, which all led to the same conclusion.

Santa is a data scientist.

Yes, you read correctly – Santa is a data scientist! Below we’ve outlined the key clues that should have been so obvious to all of us.

Santa’s personalized gift selection is powered by data – obviously.

Selecting or building the right gift for families around the world requires information on who they are, their preferences and interests, and even what complimentary toys they already have within the household. Developing sophisticated personalization strategies that scale across millions – or even billions of people – like this have only ever been made possible by the application of modeling and data analysis. 

Clearly, Santa is leveraging a variety of data and insights – including demographics, motivations, behaviors, life stage, and more – to pick the perfect gift.

Santa stays “on trend” year after year thanks to predictive analytics.

New “It” toys emerge every year, causing parents to panic in the months of November and December. However, it seems that Santa’s elves have already begun building or acquiring those toys months before their “must-have” status was achieved. How is this possible? The only answer could be predictive analytics

The ability to look forward and determine not only what is important now, but also what will become important in the future is a tell-tale sign Santa has his nose in data, not just milk and cookies. 

Santa has been able to scale his holiday cheer – even with more demand and tech.

The volume and types of gifts have evolved dramatically over the last several hundred years. In society, we have experienced the industrial revolution, as well as many dramatic tech advancements, which explain how we are able to give each other so many different gifts. 

Based on what is delivered, it seems that Santa has been able to scale his organization with excellent efficiency – keeping downtime manageable and recipients satisfied – much like the data scientists at your organization.

Santa relies on an army of specialists to make the holiday magic possible.

Santa’s elves are also surrounded by mystery. However, based on our research, they fulfill many important roles within Santa’s overall operation. 

Although their responsibilities are expansive, the data flows seamlessly across silos allowing the overall team to perform at an excellent level.

A sample of elf responsibilities:

  • Securely store zero-party information submitted by recipients, including “Dear Santa” letters written by children
  • Manage partner relations in the community like non-profits and shopping centers 
  • Secure positive government relationships with organizations like USPS, NORAD, and the Marines
  • Manage vendor relationships to acquire materials like wood, glue, and microchips
  • Monitor Santa’s health to make sure he isn’t eating too many treats and will be able to fulfill his annual duties

Some of these data sources include:

  • Weather
  • Residential addresses for all recipients
  • Presence of children or pets
  • Individual interests
  • Type of residence and whether there is a chimney to slide down
  • Gift quantity and sleigh weight
  • Security camera systems to avoid detection
  • And much more

Santa’s route doesn’t waste a moment of his time and keeps him safe.

The lack of tragic Santa-related accidents – as well as low reports of sightings and late arrivals – serve as proof that his route is in no way random. It is clear that several data sources feed a single routing system. Clearly, he must combine these data sources with information focused on specific geographic-like timezones to create the perfect route. As data points constantly change – like the weather, for example – his delivery model must be able to recalculate the best route on an as-needed basis as he completes his deliveries. 

“Santa has to deliver gifts to around 200 million children spread over 200 million square miles. Because each household has 2.67 children, there are about 75 million homes to visit, and the average distance between homes is about 1.63 miles, Santa needs to cover 122 million miles.”
Larry Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University.

Santa is fueled by sugar and caffeine.

Many children show gratitude to Santa by leaving out what has been identified as his favorite snack – milk and cookies. 

Based on a successful campaign that began in the 1920s, Santa also prefers Coca-Cola to water, possibly due to a need for caffeine while working so late. Many European countries make alcoholic beverages available to Santa to show hospitality, including Guinness and Sherry. 

While many children leave out healthier options like carrots or even hay, it is clear those items are left out for his reindeer and not Santa himself.

According to Spoon University, Santa consumes 123.5 BILLION calories and 6.65 BILLION grams of fat in cookies alone on Christmas Eve.

Santa’s salary is up for debate.

While the standard salary for a Santa working in a community is easier to define – often $25 – $75 per hour for appearances – defining the value of the true Santa has been a much more debated issue. applies salary information from comparable jobs from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate Santa’s salary each year. This analysis includes compensation for several roles, including personal shopping, animal care, sleigh pilot, and more

His defined (not paid) salary for 2021 was $159,622, which was a 6% increase over the prior year.

That number appears low for his overall contribution, with many arguing his salary should be much greater – even 7 or 8 figures. However parents debate that assertion stating that as parents they are not paid a salary, so Santa’s compensation should be similar. 

A Data scientist faces a similar challenge as they negotiate their salaries. Should the amount be defined based on the number of hours good analysis takes or by the overall impact on the organization?

The average salary for a Data Science Manager in 2022 was $161,000, less than a 1% difference from Santa’s defined salary. 

Santa is rarely seen by the people who benefit most directly from his work.

Similar to a data scientist working within large and small organizations around the world, although he has a huge impact, most of the recipients of his generosity never lay eyes on him. 

This is especially true since the COVID pandemic, which has caused a massive increase in employees working remotely from others. While Santa has largely been able to avoid detection, there has been a low volume of sightings to prove existence

“Executives have heard of how data science is a sexy industry, and how data scientists are like modern-day superheroes, but most are still unaware of the value a data scientist holds in an organization.”
Avantika Monnappa, Simplilearn

Similarly, a data scientist will often bypass executive and client-facing situations but are sometimes sighted in the breakroom getting snacks. Although they are not invited to every meeting, their work directly impacts teams across the organization, including finance, logistics, supply, marketing, and more. As the need for data-driven decisions and consumer analytics is on the rise, we anticipate this impact will only continue to increase – so make sure you get to know your data science teams!