Christmas is a time filled with love, excitement, joy and wonder. The tradition of Santa with his reindeer drawn sleigh flying around the world delivering presents is one of the things that makes Christmas such an exciting holiday. Small children wait in anticipation for weeks for Santa to come down the chimney with his bag of loot. But how does he and his bag of gifts gets down the chimney?
In Clement Clarke Moore’s famous 1822 poem “An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas” better known as, “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, Santa is described as a “a right jolly old elf,” and he is said to ride in “a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer”. This all gives the impression that Santa is a tiny figure. Perhaps then, he could fit down a chimney. But that does not explain how he gets all the big parcels down the chimney.
In Moore's poem he goes on to describe his experience of seeing Saint Nicholas delivering gifts in his house and says,
"And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;"
This indicates that perhaps Santa has some kind of magic that whisks him up and down the chimney, gifts and all. There must be magic involved as Santa never appears full of soot and dirt from having come down the chimney, as you would expect.
One theory is that Santa has a special potion that he mixes with milk. The potion then makes him small enough to go up and down the chimney. He then sprinkles magic sprinkles on the cookies to make himself big again. This works in a similar way to the 'eat me' and 'drink me' potions in "Alice in Wonder Land". This explains why Santa needs milk and cookies at each house but does not explain everything. In cold northern hemisphere countries many of the fireplaces have roaring fires in the hearth on Christmas Eve and thus coming down the chimney without some kind of magical protection, even if you were small enough to fit, would be a very painful experience.
A professor at the University of Chicago has explained that the technology to decrease the size of something could exist as the spaces between the nucleus of an atom and the electrons around it could be compressed. But again, this does not explain how Santa comes out clean and scorch free.
Why does Santa come down the chimney at all? It seems an odd thing for a fat man with a load of presents to try to do. Throughout European folklore the hearth has represented a place where the natural and supernatural collide. The English and Scottish Brownie is a sprite that helps with household tasks but works only at night and enters via the chimney. In Italy the Christmas Witch, or La Befana, comes down the chimney to leave gifts in the shoes of children who have placed them at the hearth. The German Pelznichol comes down the chimney to deliver cakes, sweets and nuts to children who have behaved well throughout the year. Even the characters of J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series use flue powder to transport themselves from one fireplace to another.
The idea of creatures coming down the chimney is not a new one. As early as the 1400's there are written records of witches, fairies and elves flying up and down the chimney. The 4th Century Turkish Saint Nicholas was said to have dropped bags of gold down the chimneys of poor families, despite chimneys not having been invented at the time. European immigrants brought their stories with them to America and thus these have had an influence on the current image we have of Santa. So it is no surprise that Santa comes down the chimney as opposed to coming in the window or the door. Besides, that would be far too boring for this magical mysterious character.