Antimatter: X-mas Files Edition

Elf Esteem, Haunted Humbug, and Santa Selfie

An eerily realistic reconstruction of St. Nicholas based on the work of Professor Caroline Wilkinson. (Liverpool John Moores University)

An eerily realistic reconstruction of St. Nicholas based on the work of Professor Caroline Wilkinson. (Liverpool John Moores University)

Sure. Sure. The Christmas season is full of crass commercialism. Materialist dogma -- of all varieties -- are on display everywhere. But the season has traditionally been regarded as a time of supernatural activity and high strangeness, as this edition of Antimatter shows.

Santa Claus Selfie

The jury is still out on whether Santa Claus is real. (Although there’s still a debate.) But there is no debate that  a real flesh and blood Saint Nicholas existed and that he became the template for our current Santa.

Turns out, the current version is a bit off from the original. Using a thorough analysis of the saint’s skeleton, which was removed from a crypt decades ago when it was threatened by water damage, and mixing in some modern technological wizardry, scientists have revealed that Saint Nick probably did not have the chubby cheeks, let alone the bowl-full-of-jelly belly, of his more modern, more consumer-friendly version. In fact, he had an average to slender build. He had a broad forehead and a jutting jaw.

One peculiar feature is that his nose may have been broken. The bone reveals evidence of a healed fracture. Since it probably didn’t come from laying his finger to the side of his nose, the break may have come from some other injury. If some of the tales that surround Saint Nicholas are true, it may have come from one of his notorious brawls. Saint Nick’s parish included some rough and tumble characters, sinners who, we’re told, the saint wasn’t afraid to mix it up with physically or spiritually.

A 2014 reconstruction based on the work of Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic specialist at Liverpool John Moores University, used tissue depth information from Turkish males -- Saint Nicholas was from Turkey -- and cutting edge CGI technology to reveal some of these features and create the most recent and most realistic picture of what the saint might have looked like.

Another thing. Be careful in that lap. Saint Nicholas also showed signs of arthritis in the spine and pelvis.

Christmas: The best of times -- and the creepiest of times.

The creative spirit that gave us Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim, and a full range of temporally inclined Christmas ghosts is said to still hang around a place not in jolly old England, but in Boston, weirdly enough.

The story goes that when Charles Dickens went on a tour of America -- reading a selection of his works, including A Christmas Carol -- he stayed in The Omni Parker House, reportedly one of the most haunted places in the city. The reaction to Dickens’ reading tour was so strong and so positive that some people think he is still hanging around. People who stay in the Dickens Suite claim to have seen the author’s apparition walking back and forth reading a book. When they look closer, he’s reading from A Christmas Carol. 

Bah Humbug, you say?

The spirit of Dickens is also said to inhabit a full-length mirror that once rested in the hotel, but was moved to nearby Tremont Temple Baptist Church. Witnesses have reported that they looked into the mirror expecting to see their own reflection, but saw the world famous author looking back at them instead. Some say he's still reading A Christmas Carol.

A Problem With Elves?

Santa isn’t the only one who has elves trolling around the premises. According to folklore, elves, imps, hobs, and other creatures who are included in the magical species called household spirits have inhabited the homes and houses of mankind for hundreds of years. How you act may influence whether taking in an elf roommate is a blessing, or a curse.

Atlas Obscura is giving you a chance to make amends with your household spirits just in time for the holidays.

A lot of these household spirits can help you with that holiday cleaning. The elfin-like hob, for example, typically takes up residence in homes of northern England and help keep farms, homes, and shops ship shape. But, hobs, shy creatures, just want to be left alone and will leave if they receive praise of attention to their work. Spanish households might have a trasgu as a helper. Happy ones are nice to have around but if you tick them off, they may hide things, or break your dishes. It’s not just western cultures that receive some elf help. In Japan, if your home has a Zashiki-warashi, that’s a sign of good fortune. This Japanese elf, too, likes being in homes that honors and respects him.

Oh, and of course, set out some milk and cookies for the elf of the jolly old variety.

Have a Scary Christmas and a Weird New Year!

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