A new (to me) Christmas folk story from Germany and Ukraine. About spiders!

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Out in a small town the other day, I stumbled upon a one-day Christmas market, and some hand-crafted glass jewelry caught my eye. Or, more specifically, beautiful hand-made spiders about 3 inches/8cms high, sitting over the other jewelry on display. I chose a spider for one of our daughters, and then the jewelry maker suddenly said, “I nearly forgot, I must give you the story about these,” and handed me a printed sheet called ‘The Legend of the Christmas Spider’.

This is a folk tale from Germany and Ukraine, I don’t recall ever hearing this story before. Or, to be more exact, this range of stories. Because in the hands of oral storytellers down the centuries, there are many variants. All of them link to the practice of placing a spider decoration and tinsel on Christmas trees – Google will show you many variants.

But I like the version I was given, and here it is:

Once upon a time, a gentle mother was busily cleaning the house for the most wonderful day of the year. Not a speck of dust was left. Even the spiders had left their cosy corner in the ceiling and had fled to the attic to avoid the housewife’s busy cleaning. At last, it was Christmas Eve. The tree was decorated and waiting for the children to see it. The poor spiders were frantic, for they could not see the tree, not the presents that waited for dawn. The oldest and wisest spider suggest that perhaps they could peep through the crack in the door to see this glorious sight.

Silently, they crept out of their attic, down the stairs and across the floor. Suddenly, the door opened a little and quickly the spiders scurried into the room. The Christmas tree was breath-taking and so they crept all over it, up and down, over every branch and twig, looking at the pretty decorations and presents. But alas! Everywhere they climbed, they left a trail of threads. Seeing what they had done, they become very afraid that they would be killed, so they prayed for mercy. Suddenly, an angel appeared and said, “I’ll save you, but I will need some help. One of you must stay to save the rest.”

One volunteered with the agreement of the others, and then the angel touched that spider and turned it to ice, and their webs became shimmering silver and gold.

Since that time, we have hung tinsel and a spider decoration on our Christmas trees to remind us of the sacrifice of the One to save many.”

The other online versions of the story lack the redemptive parallel of the voluntary sacrifice of one the spiders, and merely have alternate visitors to the tree (the Christ-child, Santa, or just the sunlight) turning the spider webs to silver and gold.

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