In the lead up to Halloween, we have dipped into Stephan D. Mifsud’s The Maltese Bestiary to discover some of the most frightening characters from Maltese folklore.
In this article, we take a look at il-Gawgaw, a shapeshifting Christmas monster probably passed down to us by Greek Christian settlers.
Name in Maltese: Il-Gawgaw aka il-Waħx tal-Milied
Name in English: The Christmas Monster
First mentioned: The belief in a Christmas shapeshifting monster is very old. The idea was probably derived from Greek Christian settlers in mediaeval Malta, who believed that anyone born on Christmas Eve n would be cursed into transforming into a kallikantzaros, a creature that terrorised the local neighbourhood at Christmastime.
Description: Those born on Christmas Eve are believed to be cursed for being born at the same time of Christ. So, every year on the same day, if they are asleep at the stroke of midnight, they will be prone to being transformed into a zombie-like beast with long unkempt hair and long curved nails. They climb out of bed, walk out of the house, groan horribly, and return home before dawn breaks. These unfortunate people try to avoid being changed into a gawgaw by staying awake all night on Christmas Eve, counting rice or holes in a sieve.
Most frightening qualities: The terrible cries of a gawgaw on Christmas Eve keeps everyone safely put indoors. What happens to anyone who crosses its path is not known, for none have survived to tell the tale.
Find out more
Discover Maltese folklore’s scariest creatures and supernatural entities, as well as magical plants, ancient gods, and legendary beings in Stephan D. Mifsud’s The Maltese Bestiary. This 137-page, hardbound book was published by Merlin Publishers in 2014 and remains one of the definitive works on the subjects.