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December 5, 2014

CityMetric Advent 5: Where does Santa start his rounds?

By City Monitor Staff

We’ve not, in fact, heard any sleigh bells ring as of yet; bells have yet to put in an appearance. And we certainly haven’t surveyed the lane for snow (glistening), because we’re an urban website and so don’t hold with such rural fripperies.

Nonetheless, it’s officially December, so it’s time to ask the question that has haunted us through the ages: which city does Santa visit first?

Getting presents to hundreds of millions of children all over the world is a hell of a job to accomplish in one night, of course (honestly, try it), so it’s very important to make a plan as to how you’re going to do it. I mean, can you imagine the embarrassment of getting to 5am on the West Coast of the US, and realising you’d entirely forgotten to do, say, France? You gotta have a strategy.

So where to begin? Let’s look at Santa’s* big map of world time zones:

Now obviously you want to start hard up against the International Date Line, as time is going to run out there first. That’s basic.

The most forward thinking part of the world is the +13 hours time zone, which contains Tonga, Samoa and the New Zealand territory of Tokelau. These places all celebrate Christmas (we’re not sure about the Phoenix Islands, which seem to be largely populated by birds), so will definitely be on Santa’s list. In fact, according to the informative Events in Polynesia website, on a page called Christmas in Samoa:

Planning for the actual day can begin months in advance, especially as there is a thirteen-day build-up to Christmas day in an annual event called “13 Days to Christmas”.

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You hear that? Months.

That said, the largest population centre here is the Samoan capital of Apia (pop: 39,000) which is probably not big enough to count as a city. So that doesn’t quite answer our question.

There is also a (this is witchcraft) +12.75 hour time zone, purely for the Chatham Islands. But their population is only 600, so they definitely don’t have anything that one might term a city. This, best we can tell, makes it the single least populated/most bloody awkward time-zone on the entire globe.

So, Santa moves on to ponder the +12 time zone. The most substantial city in Russia’s far east is Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, a mid-sized fishing port that’s not connected to the rest of the world by road (and which, by the by, is twinned with the marvellously named city of Unalaska, Alaska).

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky has shrunk rapidly in recent decades – from 269,000 in 1989 to 180,000 just 21 years later – so it’s a relatively short stop for Santa and co. On the night of 24 December, though, it isn’t a stop at all. Russia never followed the west in switching to the Gregorian calendar, and still uses the pre-18th century Julian one (this is why they held the October Revolution in November), so the reindeer won’t be showing up until the night of 6 January.

Further south you’ll find New Zealand, which contains several substantial cities: Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton. Biggest by far, however, is Auckland which, with a population of 1.4m, single-handedly accounts for a third of the country’s population: any present delivery schedule that’s even remotely fit for purpose will need to consider Auckland very early in its trip.

Here, to celebrate this accolade, is a giant bauble in the city’s Queen Elizabeth Square.

So, that seems to be the answer. Auckland is the first city Santa visits on his round-the-world tour. Father Christmas starts with Auckland.

You hear that, Santa-impersonators? You can have that for free, like.

Images: world map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Timezone Boy; Auckland bauble courtesy of Russell Street on Flickr, licenced under creative commons.


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