Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! Today’s letter is K…
The Kallikantzaroi are creatures of the night. There were many ways people could protect themselves during the days when the Kallikantzaroi were loose. They could leave a colander on their doorstep to trick the visiting Kallikantzaros. Since he could not count above 2 (3 is a holy number and by pronouncing it he would kill himself,) the Kalikantzaros would sit at the doorstep counting, 1, 2… 1, 2… each hole of the colander, all night, until the sun rose and he was forced to hide. Another method of protection was to leave the fire burning in the fireplace, all night, so that they cannot enter through there. In some areas, they would burn the Yule log, a large piece of wood, for the duration of the twelve days. And in other areas, people would throw smelly shoes in the fire, the stink repulsing the Kallikantzaroi and forcing them to stay away. Yet other ways to keep them away were to mark the door with a black cross on Christmas Eve and burn incense.
Legend has it that any child born during the twelve days of Christmas was in danger of transforming to a Kallikantzaros for each Christmas season, starting with adulthood. The antidote: Binding the baby in tresses of garlic or straw, or singeing the child’s toenails. In another legend, anyone born on a Saturday can see and talk with the Kallikantzaroi.
One particularity that sets the Kallikantzaroi apart from all other goblins/creatures of the Underworld is that they appear on Earth for only twelve days out of the whole year. Their short duration on earth, as well as the fact that they were not considered purely malevolent creatures but rather impish and stupid, have led to a number of theories about their creation. One such theory connects them to the masquerades of the ancient Roman winter festivals of Bacchus and later of Dionysos, in Athens, Greece. During the drunken, orgiastic parts of the festivals, maskers, hidden under costumes in bestial shapes, yet still appearing humanoid, may have made an exceptional impression on the minds of simple folk who were intoxicated.
In Greek, Kallikantzaros is also used for every short, ugly and usually mischievous being. If not used for the abovementioned creatures, it seems to express the collective sense for the Irish word leprechaun and the English words gnome and goblin.