Run and Hide, Kalikatzaroi are here
The Greek Spirits of Christmas Time
Balkan countries are sharing their own mythical creatures that remind us of elves and trolls’ appearance and attitude. Here, we are going to focus on the Greek version, commonly known as Kalikatzaroi. Kalikatzaroi are mostly related to Christmas. They are demonic creatures. There are multiple names to describe them, however, kalikatzaroi, is the most common name. Although, the etymology of the world is not something that will concern this article.
Are they humans or spirits?
People mostly confused them with elves and ferries or demons. However, kalikatzaroi are more like humans. They have been presented as stubborn, strong in muscle and they could interact with humans. They walked between them, they talked and they affected or be affected by them. They were known for their rebellious character and the calamities they could cause.
They, also, shared common behaviour with vampires. There was the belief that they once lived as human beings and after they perished they came back to bother their people. Kalikatzaroi would stop to count the sieve’s holes if it happened to be hanged somewhere they could see it. This could be a way to delay their activities, as a beaded necklace or bracelet would delay a vampire because they mesmerized by it.
But not everyone believed that kalikatzaroi were spirits. Some said that they were shabby, homeless people, living in the mountains and coming down during the holiday period, when houses were full of goodies, to steal some food and make a mess. More like rebels against the bourgeoisie. Shepherds who happened to be out at night watching over their sheep, were, usually, kalikatzaroi’s victims. They stole their food, mocked them, forced them to dance around the fire while they tortured them with burning charcoals, or even killed them.
How did they look like?
Their repugnant appearance was distinctive. They were dark creatures with a hairy outfit. Sometimes they appeared as half men half donkeys or goats. They could have a human appearance, a male or female, wandering around naked. If somebody was lucky enough to meet them at night they made a bunch of weird questions and it was unlikely, if people didn’t know know how to protect themselves, that they could escape from their pranks or even from torture or death.
Christmas time and the spirits of the chimney
It was believed that they were active on Earth either during the forty days before Christmas celebrations or the Christmas Eve night and they went back to the Underworld on the sixth of January when the Christian Church celebrates the day of the Epiphany. Their main job was to try and cut down the tree of life that supports Earth. They danced around it and maked a fuss so nobody could hear while they were trying to cut it down with a saw. Then, during the Christmas period, they left it to come up to the surface. The tree of life had the time to heal and when they came back they had to start all over again.
Get rid of them once but not for all
There were many ways to keep them away, like the use of talismans or prayers. More specifically, a talisman made of Gunpowder, Rue plant, Bread and Evil eye beads was the weapon to protect night-walkers who bothered by kalikatzaroi. A rue plant planted in a pot outside the front door was enough to keep them away. From written descriptions, we have a story of a sorcerer who spun a black sheep’s hair and then hi it under a stone at the edge of the village to keep them away from the villagers. Some bird species seemed to be kalikatzaroi’s enemies. According to folklore stories, the rooster’s crow could make them leave everything behind and hideaway. But, also, a random crow sound was enough to make them leave as well.
It seems, though, that the Christian priest had the most power to bit them, torture them and send them back to the Underworld. Holy Water was the priest’s way to cleanse the houses from their mess. It was believed that, on the day of Epiphany, he could burn them just with some drops of the Holy Water.
Playing with fire
In folklore, kalikatzaroi are connected to fire and hearth. They come down from the chimney and if the fire is off they pee all over the woods so it can not light up easily. People used to keep the fire on for the whole twelve days of Christmas to keep kalikatzaroi out of the house. After the holiday period, they would spread the ashes from the hearth around the fence as another way to keep them away.
There are lots of tales describing their naughty behaviour against women and children. Kalikatzaroi dancing around women and painting their faces with dirt or catching unsuspected children on their way home to pee on their hair and clothes are common elements of similar stories. These descriptions point to mischiefs and sloppiness similar to a toddler’s behaviour. The tales could be interpreted as a way of expressing a nostalgic feeling of the old times when things were easier and simpler. Α wish emerges from it to go back to the impulsive nature of a kid. Kalikatzaroi could do all the don’ts that kids learn, from very early, to stay away from. They pee wherever they want, make a mess, play with food, play with fire, bother, kill and make noise.
Mythology and Origins
In academic circles, there are two main views about their origins. The first one claims that they are a modernized description of the spirits who are visiting the living on the first day of the Anthesteria festival in Ancient Greece. The second associates them with Satyrs, followers of the god Dionysus. Satyrs are, also, associated with Centaurs who were descendants of a very old tribe named Pelasgians, who had the reputation of a tribe of sorcerers.
The folklore heritage we have about kalikatzaroi is very rich and exciting and it couldn’t possibly be limited in the context of this article. I am hoping that we could go back to it in the future. In the meantime, if you find this article interesting, please share and feel free to leave a comment, and/or if you find any resemblance with creatures from your own culture, it would be a delight to share your stories here with us.