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(karakoncolos, karakondžula, karakondzhol)
Grouping Goblins
Country Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey
Region Southeastern Europe

Kallikantzaros (Greek: Καλλικάντζαρος; pl. Kallikantzaroi; Serbian: Караконџула;Karakondžula) are malevolent goblins in Southeastern European (Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian) and Anatolian folklore (Turkey). They dwell underground but come to the surface during the twelve days of Christmas, from 25 December to 6 January (from the winter solstice for a fortnight during which time the sun ceases its seasonal movement). Its name is possibly derived from "kalos-kentauros, or "beautiful centaur".


Amongst other proposed etymologies for the name, there is speculation that it may possibly derive from "kalos-kentauros, or "beautiful centaur", although the theory has met with considerable opposition.[1]

In Greek folklore[edit]

The Kallikantzaroi and the World Tree[edit]

It is believed that Kallikantzaroi stay underground sawing the World tree, so that it will collapse, along with Earth.[1] However, when they are about to saw the final part, Christmas dawns and they are able to come to the surface. They forget the Tree and come to bring trouble to mortals.


Finally, on the Epiphany (6 January), the sun starts moving again, and they must go underground again to continue their sawing. They see that during their absence the World tree has healed itself, so they must start working all over again. This happens every year.


A goat footed Kallikatzaros

There is no standard appearance of Kallikantzaroi, there are regional differences on their appearance. Some Greeks have imagined them with some animal parts, like hairy bodies, horse legs, or boar tusks, sometimes enormous, other times diminutive. Others see them as humans of small size smelling horribly. They are predominantly male, often with protruding sex characteristics.[1] Many Greeks have imagined them as tall, black, hairy, with burning red eyes, goats' or donkeys' ears, monkeys' arms, tongues that hang and heads that are huge.[2] Nonetheless, the most common belief is that they are small, black creatures, humanoid apart from their long black tails. Their shape resembles that of a little, black devil. They are, also, mostly blind, speak with a lisp and love to eat frogs, worms [3] and other small creatures.


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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[4]

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.

In Serbian folklore[edit]

In Serbian Christmas traditions, the Twelve Days of Christmas used to be called the "unbaptized days" and were considered a time when demonic forces of all kinds were believed to be more than usually active and dangerous. People were cautious not to attract their attention, and did not go out late at night. The latter precaution was especially because of the demons called karakondžula (Serbian Cyrillic: Караконџула; also karakondža, karakandža or karapandža), imagined as heavy, squat, and ugly creatures. According to tradition, when a karakondžula found someone outdoors during the night of an unbaptized day, it would jump on the person's back and demand to be carried wherever it wanted. This torture would end only when roosters announced the dawn; at that moment the creature would release its victim and run away.[6]

In Anatolian folklore[edit]

The Karankoncolos is a malevolent creature in Northeast Anatolian Turkish folklore. It is a variety of bogeyman, usually merely troublesome and rather harmless, but sometimes truly evil. It has thick hairy fur like the Sasquatch. The Turkish name is derived from the Greek name. According to late Ottoman Turkish myth, they appear on the first ten days of Zemheri, "the dreadful cold", when they stand on murky corners, and ask seemingly ordinary questions to the passers-by. In order to escape harm, one should answer each question, using the word "kara" (the Turkish word for 'black'), or risk being struck dead by the creature. It was also said in Turkish folklore that the Karakoncolos could call people out during the cold Zemheri nights, by imitating voices of loved ones. The Karakoncolos' victim risked freezing to death if he or she could not awake from the charm.

In Bulgarian folklore[edit]

The Bulgarian name of the creature is Karakondjul (or Karakondjol, Bulgarian: Караконджол). The Karakondjul walks at night. Koukeri (or kukeri) is the name of a Bulgarian custom, the purpose of which is to scare away the evil creature and avoid contact with it.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Carlo Ginzburg (14 June 2004). Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath. University of Chicago Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-226-29693-7. "According to one etymological conjecture that has met with many objections, the term kallikantzaros derives from kalos-kentauros (beautiful centaur)." 
  2. ^ Miles, Clement A. (2008). Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan. USA: Zhingoora Books. p. 244. ISBN 978-1434473769. 
  3. ^ Μανδηλαρἀς, Φἰλιππος (2005). Ιστοριες με Καλικἀντζαρους (in Greek). Εκδὀσεις Πατἀκης. p. 11. ISBN 960-16-1742-6. Retrieved 27 October 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Miles 2008, p. 245.
  5. ^ Μανδηλαρἀς 2005, p. 20.
  6. ^ Vuković (2004), p. 94