Creatures of the night

A new exhibition and book details the naughty habit of Cyprus’ mysterious Kalikangiari [Kallikantziaroi]

Christmas has become all about presents, eating delicious food and wild partying. Not only has the true religious meaning of Christmas been overshadowed by other commercial festivities, but certain tales that form an intrinsic part of our culture have unfortunately been long forgotten.

Most of us are aware of the tales and legends of wicked goblins, but what about the Cypriot Kalikangiari? On the island, the Kalikangiari have a long tradition, with endless stories claiming that they visit humans every year during the twelve-day period from December 25 to January 5, known in Cyprus as the ‘Dodecameron’.

Hambis Tsaggaris is a Cypriot writer intent on bringing the colourful tales of Kalikangiari to life, having recently completed his second book on the subject, Kalikangiari: Cypriot Tales.

Through the work, the author has a compelling desire to send his Kalikangiari overseas so that the rest of the world can get a better acquainted with the tales of Cyprus. The book contains sections in Greek, English, French and German.

The author says that the work is a gift in return to the British, French, German, Irish, Scottish, Icelanders, Scandinavians and other nationalities, who cared to introduce and acquaint us to their Goblins, Trolle, Elfen, Sotres, Lutins, Loups-garous, Juledvarger, Hexen, Druden, Alben, Wiide Frauen, Wehmutter and Jolas vlinar. “I rejoice with the idea that the Cypriot Kalikangiari will find a place in foreign libraries and homes, and in the hearts of those who love this most easterly island of the Mediterranean and its people,” said Hambis.

He explains that the stories he writes are not simply based on fantasy, but on the tales described to him by locals who claim to have witnessed Kalikangiari. Having researched the subject for over five years, he managed to talk to about 70 people. “In the old days people were more innocent and lived in darkness most of the time. With no street lights, they would walk outside and wonder what was lurking in the shadows,” explained Hambis. Apparently, adults would implant the fear of Kalikangiari into every youngster with their stories. Because of the frightening tales, kids were scared to wander outside during the ‘dodecameron’ nights in case they encountered the Kalikangiari, who would steal their voice. Rumour also has it that any women who were ‘disbelievers’ and would not cross themselves at night were easy prey for the Kalikangiari. Sometimes women would disappear in the middle of the night claiming that the evil creatures had abducted them. The truth of the matter however was that many women would fabricate these stories so they could spend the night cuddled up with their secret lovers!

In some places, people would not even wash their clothes or have a bath during ‘dodecameron’ for fear of the Kalikangiari appearing in the water. There would be no weddings either, as the public believed that the Kalikangiari would meddle under their feet and annoy the couple. The naughty creatures were even considered a problem during childbirth, where it was feared that they would bother the babies if they were left unguarded. To avoid the demons and swapping of babies, women would be watched continuously during labour. “Don’t forget that in those days, these stories were also a type of entertainment,” said Hambis. “Tales of Kalikangiari that went round the village were like the stories we see on television today. But saying that, don’t think that Kalikangiari are just a thing of the past. I’ve spoken to young people today who have tales to tell me.”

Hambis’ work is not only packed with interesting tales, but also with beautiful sketches of the naughty Kalikangiari in action. These sketches are currently on show at Kypriaki Gonia Gallery in Larnaca until mid January. The Kalikangiari appear as demonic, skinny and black. They are small awkward creatures with tails, horns, large ears, and crooked arms and legs. The images show the greedy creatures bothering humans as they lay in their beds at night, teasing women, disrupting households, tangling the yarn on a spinning wheel and engaging in frivolities in the cobblers’ shops. “The moony experiences of the night with their frightening spectral shadows, led me to the images and illustrations that I’ve developed, sketched and suggested in my book. They are pictures of a bygone world, back then, when darkness was dominant over light,” Hambis said.

“Today’s light intensity, in all its aspects and sense, has confined the Kalikangiari to an obscure corner. However, I felt that it was my responsibility to preserve all those unbelievable stories that have been experienced and related by the old folk,” Hambis added. When asked if he believes in Kalikangiari he replied without hesitation, “Oh yes of course I believe! Some people may say it’s just a legend but why would everyone just make up the tales?”

If you want to get better acquainted with these creatures of the dark night then be sure to go along to Kypriaki Gonia Gallery where you can catch a glimpse of the Kalikangiari getting up to all their terribly naughty habits.

Kalikangiari Exhibit > Presentation of silkscreen images of Kalikangiari. Until January 10. Kypriaki Gonia Gallery, Larnaca. Tel: 24 621109. The book Kalikangiari-Cypriot Tales is currently on sale at Moufflon bookshops.

Did you know? > In Cyprus, there is a belief that children who die un-baptised or are miscarried by their mothers are illegitimate and are transformed into little Kaligangiari. Every New Year’s Day they descend the chimney and call their mother with grievance.

The most popular traditions place the Kalikangiari into the bowels of the earth, except for the dodecameron, continuously striving with axes and saws to sever the tree that supports the earth, so they can topple it. Simple folk call it the pillar of the earth; they fantasise it as an enormous tree with a fifty-metre diameter extremely hard trunk. On December 25, they cease cutting the tree down and rush to the upper word to entertain them selves.

People deliver themselves from the Kalikangiari and their ills by careful defensive strategies implanted in them by their ancestors. Their defensive weapons are innumerable, some of which are: blocking chimneys with thorns, sketching the sign of the cross above doors and windows, placing a black-handled knife behind the door or a horseshoe in the chimney, sprinkling black cumin seeds when warm bread is taken out of the oven.