The Kallikantzaros: Creepy Christmas Monsters that Punish Sinners!

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In the trend of shining the spotlight on the creepy side of the holidays, let’s talk about the Kallikantzaros…or the Kallikantzaroi (plural). What is interesting about this legend is that it also has a connection with the dates December 25th-January 6th. If you read my blog about Frau Perchta, her active dates were the same. Since we’re officially in the 12 days of Chistmas, let’s wrap up this series with a lesser known monster.

The Legend

In case the name didn’t give it away, the legend of the Kallikantzaros comes from Greece. You can also find the legend in other countries like Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia, and Cyprus. They are malevolent little goblins that spend the rest of the year underground trying to saw the World tree. If this collapses, Earth goes with it. But when the 12 days of Christmas comes around, they are able to come to the surface. The Kallikantzaros abandon their tree-cutting plans, if not totally forget them. You see, the Kallikantzaros refocus their energy on terrorizing the mortal world. 

When Epiphany happens on January 6th (and the sun starts moving again), these Christmas goblins return underground. In their absence, the World Tree healed itself. So, the Kallikantzaros start over with their sawing, doomed to repeat the tradition every year until the end of time. Actually, they’ve not considered THAT evil. Instead, they’re seen as more impish and stupid, which is why they can come to Earth for a short time.

The Origins

“Bacchanalia” by Alessandro Rosi (circa 1670)

It is believed they were inspired by annual festivals in both Greek and Roman culture. In ancient Rome, the winter festival of Bacchanalia had people wearing beast-like costumes and masks. They were often rowdy, drunk, and engaging in quite in “active” physical adventures with more than one person at a time. In ancient Greece, the festival took place in March and was more centered around theatrical performances. It was in honor of Dionysus, who also happens to be my favorite Greek god.

What Did the Kallikantzaroi Look Like?

Depending on what region you were from, the Kallikantzaros had a variety of different looks. In some places, they were envisioned with hairy bodies, boar husks in their mouths, and horse legs. Sometimes they were big, and sometimes they were smaller humans that smelled horribly. Other parts of Greece say they have red eyes, huge heads with tongues that hang out, and goat or donkey ears…and they had protruding male parts. But the most popular belief is that they are small, hairy little creatures with long black tails…looking like little Devils. What I also found interesting is they are portrayed as mostly blind and love to eat small creatures like worms and frogs…plus they speak with a lisp.

Where Did the Kallikantzaroi Come From?

This is fairly interesting. If a baby was born during the 12 days of Christmas, it was at risk of transforming into a Kallikantzaros during the holiday season once they reached adulthood. There’s another legend that said that any baby born on a Saturday was also at risk. This sounds like a weird Christmas werewolf type of legend. A way to combat this was to bind the baby in tresses of garlic and straw and singe the baby’s toenails (ouch!).

How to Avoid the Kallikantzaroi?

According to lore, there were a few things people did to avoid the wrath of the Kallikantzaros. One of the simplest ways was to leave a colander on their front doorstep. Apparently, the Kallikantzaros were not only creatures of the night, but were also idiots and couldn’t count higher than two because three was considered to be a holy number. If a Kallikantzaros were to say the number three, it would kill itself. By leaving a colander on the front door, the creature can’t help itself but try to count all the holes throughout the night. Thus, wasting time until sunrise. 

Another way was to burn a fire every night so that the Kallikantzaros couldn’t enter through the chimney. Sometimes, it was a yule log that would burn throughout the 12 days of Christmas. Marking a black cross on the door and burning incense would also help protect you against these creatures. If you threw in your stinky shoes in the fire, the smell would be enough to sway the Kallikantzaros to keep going, since they would be repulsed by the smell.

In Other Countries

In Albania, the Kallikantzaros were known as the Kukuth. But they were undead creatures that tormented you in January while carrying chains. They were known to have very bad breath.

In Serbia, the Kallikantzaros was called the “karakondžula.” They came out during the 12 Days of Christmas as normal. But at one point, in Serbia, it was believed that the 12 Days of Christmas were once known as the “unbaptized days”, thus making them less holy. Because of this, demons and monsters were more active and dangerous. Serbians were told to not do anything to attract their attention, like going out late at night. The karakondžula was a short, heavy-set creature that would jump on its victim’s back and demanded to be carried wherever it wanted. This would continue until the rooster crowed the next morning and the sun came up.

Serbian lore mainly targeted adulterers, because those committing adultery would do their sins in the quiet of the night. It was even believed that a karakondžula would hang out on the door frame of the lovers’ home, or even a brothel, and jump on the back of the adulterer as they were leaving. The karakondžula would dig their nails into the person’s skin and make them run around the forest until dawn.

In Anatolian folklore, the karakoncolos were Sasquatch-like creatures that appeared during the 10 days of Zemheri, also known as the “dreadful cold.” They would stand on murky corners and ask questions to passers-by. As long as you answered the questions, you were safe. These creatures were more troublesome, harmless, and rarely evil. They could also call out people by mimicking the voices of their loved ones.

Finally, in Bulgaria, the karakondjul or karakondjo is a shapeshifter-type creature that can transform itself into a man, dog, goat, sheep, or calf. In its normal form, the humanoid has a large head with horns, a tail, and a hairy body. It could also only have one leg or have the legs of a horse. It typically lives in caves, abandoned water mills, and rivers. The kukeri is a traditional ritual to keep these evil creatures away

What do you think of the Kallikantzaroi? Have you heard of this legend before?


Kallikantzaroi – Greek Christmas Goblins – Greek Christmas Customs & Traditions

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