Like many other European countries, Greece has its fair share of odd or creepy Christmas traditions; among them, the mischievous kallikantzaroi may be the scariest. The kallikantzaroi are tiny goblins who emerge from beneath the earth’s surface during the holiday season. According to Greek folklore, these creatures aim to cause chaos by stealing sweets and creating havoc in people’s homes. The belief is rooted in the notion that they are free to roam until Christ’s baptism on January 6th, as Christ has not yet been able to protect humanity from evil.
Kallikantzaroi’s Physical Description
Described as grotesque and eerie, the Kallikantzaroi are small, impish creatures with elongated ears, sharp claws, and glowing red eyes. Legends speak of their shaggy hair, long tails, and twisted, contorted bodies. These goblins are often portrayed as unsettling and monstrous, evoking fear and trepidation among those who encounter them. The Kallikantzaroi’s physical appearance emphasizes their otherworldly and malevolent characteristics, adding to the chilling allure of these mythical beings.
The Twelve Days of Christmas: When Do Kallikantzaroi Appear?
The Kallikantzaroi have a significant connection with the Winter Solstice. As the days become shorter and the nights grow longer, the ancient Greek folklore tells of these mischievous creatures emerging from the depths of the earth.
According to Greek lore, the earth is vulnerable to the intrusion of supernatural beings during the Winter Solstice. In Greek tradition, the hibernal solstice marks a time of chaos when the veil between the earthly realm and the underworld is thinnest.
The Kallikantzaroi cause mischief and havoc during the Twelve Days of Christmas, stretching from December 25th to January 6th in Greek tradition.
The festive season is a time of vulnerability because people are preoccupied with celebrations and rituals, leaving them susceptible to the pranks and tricks of these goblin-like creatures. The Kallikantzaroi’s antics aim to disrupt the joy and harmony of the holiday season. The Greek Christmas goblins can do anything from stealing household items to creating general disorder in homes (overturning furniture, hiding belongings, and even frightening livestock).
Although the Christmas goblins are just mythical figures, many Greek families – especially in rural areas – keep the legend alive by employing various traditional measures to safeguard their homes. One common practice involves hanging a pig’s jawbone or a holly branch over the front door to ward off the goblins. Burning old shoes or lighting fires throughout the twelve days of Christmas is also believed to keep Kallikantzaroi away. Additionally, some Greeks mark their doors with a black cross to protect their homes from these malevolent creatures.
Kallikantzaroi in Greek Lore
In Greek folklore, the Kallikantzaroi dwell beneath the earth’s surface, where they spend the year sawing at the World Tree, the mythical structure that supports the earth. They aim to bring down the World Tree, plunging the earth into chaos. This task keeps them occupied for most of the year, but during the twelve days from Christmas to the Epiphany, they ascend to the surface and wreak havoc on humanity.
After the Epiphany, they must return underground to inspect the World Tree for any healing.
The Kallikantzaroi’s role in the netherworld has evolved over time, transitioning from menacing entities to more playful figures. While their origins can be traced to ancient pagan customs, they have been assimilated into Christian beliefs, embodying the struggle between darkness and light.
Their resemblance to traditional depictions of goblins and trolls indicates their association with malice, yet they have evolved into mischievous beings rather than purely evil spirits. This transformation aligns with the integration of ancient belief systems into the framework of Christianity, a phenomenon observed not only in Greek folklore but also in other Balkan cultures and regions like Cyprus and Turkey.
The Kallikantzaroi’s fear of light, particularly fire, has positioned them as figures of darkness, contrasting with the symbolic representation of Jesus as the light that banishes them from the surface. Their aversion to light is reflected in their nocturnal activities, entering homes only after darkness has fallen and the fires have been extinguished.
In the past, Greeks maintained their hearth fires throughout the holiday season to deter the Kallikantzaroi from intruding into their homes. This precautionary measure indicates the enduring belief in these creatures and the necessity of safeguarding against their disruptive presence.
The ritual of consecrating the fire on Christmas Eve is a longstanding tradition, and families ensure that the hearth remains lit until the Epiphany.
The kallikantzaroi myth is still alive, and people still celebrate it in various forms, from traditional rituals to contemporary art and literature. People in the regions where the folklore originated continue to honour the legend through festivals and storytelling. The kallikantzaroi have also become a source of inspiration for artists, authors, and filmmakers, adding a contemporary twist to this ancient tale. The enduring fascination with the kallikantzaroi serves as a reminder of the enduring power of folklore in shaping cultural identities around the world.