In Greece those twelve days of Christmas are also the time of the Kallikantzoroi. The Kallikantzoroi spent the rest of the year underground and Greek tradition went that there was a tree of life that ran right through the Earth and acted as a scaffold to hold it in place. Without the tree, the Earth would simply collapse in on itself. The Kallikantzoroi are quite keen on world destruction and spend January to December sawing through the tree, hoping to snap it in half and bring down the Earth. By the end of the year only the slenderest of threads holds the tree together and the world is set to end at any second. But, just as the Kallikantzoroi are about to make the final cut, Christmas arrives and they are summoned above ground. By the time they return in early January, the tree has regrown and they have to start all over again.
Overground, their actions are sometimes mischievous – they play pranks, steal things or sow discord amongst communities. Other times they might overturn furniture and destroy possessions or they might move on to the inhabitants – beating people savagely or even aping Perchta and ripping out intestines.
What’s more, parents knew that any baby born over the twelve days of Christmas might be spirited away during the night and fated to spend eternity as one of these strange, sinister creatures (or at least turning into one for twelve nights each year). Binding newborn babies with tresses of straw and garlic would ensure the creatures could not get near them.
But how did you stop a Kallikantzoroi from getting near your house in the first place? One thing the Kallikantzoroi could not do was to count beyond two – the number three was seen as a holy number by the Greeks. The creatures would count ‘one, two’ and get confused, lose count and have to start again. The Kallikantzoroi were easy to trick by simply placing a colander outside the front door. The creatures would feel compelled to count the holes and, of course, would not be able to do so. Their confusion and failure to count would keep them occupied until sunrise – at which point the household would be safe until darkness fell again.
“Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters” is published by Simon & Schuster and available now.
Image by Mel Four.