Kalikantzari: Greek Christmas Elves

A depiction of what a Kalikantzaros looks like.

They are tiny, ugly and skinny little creatures that appear during the Christmas days. Their only purpose is for 12 days to make the lives of humans miserable. Their name comes from the Greek word “καλός” which means good, and “κάνθαρος” which means beetle.

According to the old Greek myths, every night from Dec. 25 up until Jan. 5, the Kalikantzari make their visit to our realm. Since in the Orthodox tradition from Christmas day up until Jan. 6 is the period that Jesus was still unbaptized, that meant that the waters were not purified or cleaned yet.  On Jan. 5, the Greek priests throw crosses in the waters–such as lakes, ponds and the sea–in order to purifye the waters, and that is the moment when the Kalikantzari return back to their homes until next Christmas.

Their visit to earth lasts for 12 days. On Christmas Eve, they begin their long journey to earth. The myth says that the Kalikantzari are so jealous of our world that they are trying to destroy it. They are thousands of them, and they are coming up from the surface of the earth from the many holes in the solid ground. They come outside of gorges and wells, caves and  sinks! They are afraid of the light, and for that reason they hide during the day. When they come out at night from their hiding places, they harass people. Tiny and fast as there are, they break into houses from every possible entrance, the chimneys, the keyholes and even from the carvings of doors and windows.

They enjoy swimming inside household jars, where the oil was stored, inside pans and dishes, and even in the old lighting lamps. They spoil the food with their unclean nails, and they leave their impurities anywhere they possibly can. They might not steal, but they love to mess up the house at the point that when the people wake up they cannot recognize their own houses.

Since the Kalikantzari usually come into the house through the house chimney, people were advised to leave the fireplace on all night long, in order to prevent them from intruding in the house.

There are many different stories and beliefs around Greece about their nature, and almost every area has its own interpretation of how they look and how to be protected from them.  The best advice is to always take precautions.  In the best case, you will never have to face one of them, even if they are eating your Christmas cookies and destroying your Christmas decorations.