The Kallikantzaroi and spirits like them are found throughout southeast Europe. These subterranean ghouls are small, black, impish creatures. You are only likely to see them during the 12 days of Christmas because they spend the majority of their time deep in the center of the Earth attempting to destroy the world.
According to the myth, the world is held up by a World Tree. Its roots and branches support the Earth, and it is here that the Kallikantzaroi do their devilry. For most of the year, they attempt to saw down the World Tree.
However, when Christmas comes each year, they abandon their hacking down of the World Tree to create havoc on Earth. This allows the World Tree to heal so that the Kallikantzaroi will never actually destroy the world.
To avoid the Kallikantzaroi wreaking destruction in your home, you can employ a number of tactics. You might hang the jaw of a pig behind the door. Like many demons, the Kallikantzaroi cannot avoid counting things. Hang up some flax, and they will get too busy counting the strands to be a nuisance. As they like to enter via the chimney, the coziest way to keep them out is to keep a roaring fire burning for the 12 days of Christmas.
7. La Befana
Christmas visitors appear to love entering homes via the chimney. La Befana from Italy is another guest who would probably appreciate it if you swept your chimney. On the night of January 5, La Befana, a hideous old witch, will descend the chimney and judge all the children of the home. Expecting her visit, the children all leave socks attached to the mantle.
If La Befana finds you have been good, she will fill your socks with goodies. If you have been naughty, then all you can expect is a lump of coal. It may be that this lump of coal is related to the pagan burning of women to bring in the new year. However, her name is derived from Epiphany, the Christian feast during which she appears.
According to one tradition, La Befana was visited by the Wise Men on their way to see the infant Jesus. She offered them hospitality for the night, and in the morning, they suggested that she join them on their journey to visit the newborn Christ. She declined. Later changing her mind, she never could find them or Jesus. So now she spends her time giving gifts to all the children in the world.
As with another Christmas character who spends his time distributing gifts and coal, it is traditional to leave out some food and drink for La Befana. The food varies across the regions of Italy, but every house leaves her a glass of wine.