Small, chthonic creatures that resemble trolls, elves, or goblins. If they make it into your home, they steal your food, hide your tools and personal items, ruin your furniture, and make a mess wherever they go. Some fear them, others think they’re simply a bunch of tricksters. But, according to Greek folklore, they try to destroy the tree of life by cutting down its roots. We’re talking about the “kallikantzaroi” (kallikantzaros in singular), the legendary Christmas trolls.
What Are the Kallikantzaroi? | Greek Folklore
Kallikantzaroi are supernatural creatures that, according to Greek folklore, cause all kind of mischief. They are chthonic, which means they reside in the underworld. Kallikantzaroi are also short, smelly, hairy, and objectively unattractive. They despise humanity and some say that they are minions of the Devil. They are not allowed to walk on the surface of the Earth.
According to Greek Orthodox tradition, between the 25th of December and the 6th of January, known as the twelve days of Christmas, they are allowed to roam freely. That’s because the waters are “unbaptized” or “unclean” during this time period. On the day of the Theophany, known as Epiphany in the West, the kallikantzaroi run back to the nearest caves, tunnels, and knotholes, and reenter the underworld.
Facts About the Kallikantzaroi:
- Kallikantzaroi are supernatural beings similar to trolls and goblins.
- They are Devil’s minions and are afraid of Holy Water, religious symbols, and fire.
- Kallikantzaroi are chthonic: they reside under the surface of the Earth, where they try to cut the tree of life.
- These creatures are able to visit our world between Christmas and Epiphany.
- These days are called “dodekaimero” (12 days) – a term used since Byzantine times to describe the “dirty days” before the Epiphany.
- Kallikantzaroi are part of Greek folklore; similar creatures are also part of other countries’ traditions (e.g. Bulgaria).
- They are usually depicted as hairy, smelly, and deformed.
- Kallikantzaroi eat insects, snakes, mice, and rotten fruits; they can also cause your food to spoil.
- They harass people, destroy furniture, steal and misplace items.
- If they see you walking alone at night, they might grab your arm and force you to dance with them until you pass out.
- In some parts of Greece, they are considered evil and dangerous, rather than mischievous.
- They have a “boss” who they call their “mother”; she is the one giving them orders on who to target.
- Some people believe that kallikantzaroi used to be people who were never baptized or committed crimes that turned them into monsters.
- To protect themselves, people used to leave food on their roofs and doorsteps to appease the kallikantzaroi; similar to how Western Europeans “trick or treat” during Halloween.
- There are countless names and nicknames for them: “karkantzelia”, “verveloudes”, “kalkatzania”…
When Was the Legend of the Kallikantzaros Narrated for the First Time?
It’s not clear when this legend came to life. According to Nikolaos Politis, father of the Greek folklore studies, Kallikantzaroi could refer to how the first Christians described the pagan carnival-goers, who often dressed up as animals and looked for trouble.
Foreign historians and archaeologists find a connection between the modern Greek legend of the kallikantzaros and the ancient Greek myth of satyrs. Satyrs were male nature spirits; they resembled animals and caused mischief.
On the other hand, kallikantzaroi reside in the underworld and roam our world during the “dodekaimero”. This reminds us of the ancient Greek belief that the souls of the dead were able to visit the surface of the Earth during this time period. Some archaeologists see a connection there. Are there any similar legends where you live? You can leave your own stories down below! If you enjoyed watching this video, you can like, share, and subscribe. In Helinika’s YouTube channel, you can find plenty of videos dedicated to Greek history, language, and culture.