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Kallikantzaroi (Goblins of Christmas)

The Kallikantzaroi, or goblins of Christmas are one of the most distinctive of the creatures of Greek folklore, and much ink has been spilled in theories as to their origin.

They were seen as swarthy half humans half animals, or goblins, which emerged from under the earth on Christmas Eve to torment the people until they were driven back to the underworld on the Vigil of Theophania by the priests, who go about on that day blessing houses with holy water. Although their tricks were mischievous, they could be dangerous, kidnapping and killing lone individuals. Various measures were taken to keep them out of the house, such as keeping a fire burning to prevent them from entering the house via the chimney.

There is no evidence at all for belief in Kallikantzaroi in ancient Greece. Folklorists have suggested that they originated from souls of the dead temporaily released from the Underworld, werewolves and centaurs. The most likely explanation is that of George Megas, who suggested that they were based upon the masqueraders who used to intimidate people during the winter festivals of the Saturnalia and Kalends. These figures are still seen in some pats of northern Greece at this time of the year, although they are more widely known during the pre-Lent Carnival.

A folk tale about kallikantzaroi from Skyros

A poor girl was once sent by her wicked stepmother to a mill during the dangerous Twelve Nights, ostensibly to get some corn ground, but really in the hope that she would fall prey to the dreaded kallikantzaroi.

Having arrived at the mill the girl called in vain to the miller to help unload her mule, and entering in search of him she found him bound to his chair, apparently dead with fright, and a number of kallikantzaroi standing about him. They at once seized the girl, and began to quarrel among themselves which should have her for his own. But the girl kept her wits, and said that she would willingly become the wife of the one who brought her the best bridal array. So they dispersed in search of fine clothing and jewellery. Meanwhile she set to work to grind the corn, and each time a kallikantzaros returned with presents, she sent him on a fresh errand for something more. Finally the corn was all ground, and she quickly loaded the mule with two sacks, one on either side, clothed herself in the gold and jewels which the kallikantzaroi had already brought, mounted the mule, and lay flat on the saddle covered over with a sack. Eluding the kallikantzaroi, who pursued her, she reached home in safety.

Her wicked stepmother, seeing that her plans had miscarried, and that her stepdaughter was now rich while her own daughter remained poor, determined to send her on the next evening to the mill. She too found the mill occupied by the gang of kallikantzaroi, but not being as shrewd as her half-sister, she was stripped of her own clothes, dressed in the skin of her mule, which the kallikantzaroi had killed and flayed, and sent her home with a necklace of the mule's entrails around her neck.

Read about other exotika

Read more about exotika inHaunted Greece: Nymphs, Vampires and other Exotika, by John L. Tomkinson

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