Many of the same customs and traditions, as well as folklore, are practised and believed, all over the World, no matter where they originated from. Through the years, they have been tweaked here and altered there, bits are added, and bits are taken away. Basically, they are the same story, told in another country, another age, another religion, another belief.
The Kallikantzaroi is one such story.
Kallikantzaroi are mischievous goblins, elves or gnomes that appear during the twelve days of Christmas, from the end of December until Epiphany, January sixth. These twelve days are also known as the winter solstice, and, in medieval times, yule or Yuletide. Stories about the Kallikantzaros or its equivalents can be found in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Turkey.
The appearance of the Kallikantzaroi varies by region. Sometimes they are enormous, at other times diminutive. Others see them as humans of small size that smell horrible. They are predominantly male, often with protruding sexual characteristics. Many Greeks have imagined them as tall, black and hairy, with burning red eyes, goats’ or donkeys’ ears, monkeys’ arms, tongues that hang out and heads that are huge. They only come out at night, and, are afraid of the sun, fire and Holy Water. They speak with a lisp and eat small creatures, such as worms, snails and frogs.
It is believed that Kallikantzaroi stay underground sawing the World Tree so that it will collapse, along with Earth. However, when they are about to saw the final part, Christmas dawns and they are able to come to the surface. They forget the Tree and come to bring trouble to mortals.
They come out of hiding at night to enter houses any way they can, through windows, down chimneys, through keyholes, and any cracks that they may find, in walls and around doors.
Once inside they cause havoc.
There were ways people could protect themselves during the days when the Kallikantzaroi were loose. They could leave a colander on their doorstep: if a Kallikantzaros approached for his evildoings, he would instead decide to sit and count the holes until the sun rose and he was forced to hide. The Kallikantzaroi also could not count above 2, since 3 is a holy number, and by pronouncing it, they would kill themselves.
Another form of protection is to mark your door with a black cross on Christmas Eve. Yet another is to burn a smelly shoe on the fire, the foul smell will keep them away.
To stop the Kallikantzaroi from coming down the chimney, a very large log is found and burnt for twelve days, until the sixth of January, when the Kallikantzaroi will go back to the centre of the Earth. This ties in with the Norse tradition of Yuletide, the Yule Log, burnt for the duration of the winter solstice until the sun is on the move again.
In Greek folklore, the Kallikantzaroi, disappear on the sixth of January, Epiphany, when Greek priests, go through all the houses, blessing them, with holy water, splashed around with a bunch of fresh basil.
When the Kallikantzaroi arrive back, at the centre of the Earth, they find that The World Tree has fully grown again. Out comes their large saw, and they start to chop it down, all over again.
Legend has it that any child born during the twelve days of the Saturnalia (17th through 23 December) was in danger of becoming a Kallikantzaros. The antidote: Binding the baby in tresses of garlic or straw, or singeing the child’s toenails.