Police say the 23-year-old man, later identified as Shon M. Shanell, made it most of the way down the soot-filled shaft, but the bottom proved to be too narrow.
They believe he was stuck for three hours inside the chimney of the home in the 7700 block of Seward Park Ave. S. before neighbors heard his screams for help and called 911.
Police and firefighters entered the waterfront home to see the man's legs dangling inside the chimney.
"What they found is this male was sort of stuck on top of this fireplace flue," said Seattle fire spokesperson Dana Vander Houwen.
Fire crews took jackhammers inside to chisel their way up from the bottom. They dismantled the fireplace from the inside to free the man.
Shanell was taken by ambulance to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Upon release, he was booked into the King County Jail for investigation of burglary.
The home's residents were not at home at the time. Police alerted the homeowners' son, who, in turn, called his parents.
"They laughed about it," said the homeowners' son, Jonathan Tran. "They started calling him 'the Santa Claus Burglar.'"
Nothing was stolen, but the chimney was badly damaged. Tran said what matters most is that the intruder has been caught.
"One of those nights where people think they're above the law," he said.
Neighbors said what with all the sirens, it looked as if every agency in the area responded.
"All of the police cars, fire trucks, medic vehicles along the way, helicopters in the sky -- I mean it's a huge event," said neighbor Lewis Rudd.
Rudd had one tip for the so-called Santa Claus Burglar: "I've got some axle grease."