How Spiders Gave Us Tinsel

The month of December has once again arrived and it’s that time of year to put up and decorate the Christmas tree. Do you place silver or gold tinsel on your tree? If so, you may be surprised to know that this tradition likely originated in Eastern Europe.

This old tradition is connected to The Legend of the Christmas Spider, an Eastern European folk tale. It is most popular in Ukraine, where people customarily incorporate small ornaments in the shape of pavuchky (little spiders) to decorate their trees. The spider-web-covered yalynka (Christmas tree) originates from a familiar Ukrainian Christmas story which goes something like this…

Christmas PavuchkyA long time ago, there lived a poor widow cramped in a hut with her very young children. One day, a pine cone dropped and started growing outside the hut. The children tended to it lovingly until it grew into an extravagant tree. Each year the children begged their mother to decorate the beautiful evergreen tree in honor of our Lord’s Nativity; and, each year the poor widow would humbly explain to her children that they did not have enough money to afford decorations for the tree. On one Christmas Eve, the tiny spiders who lived in the attic of the tiny hut overheard the children softly crying in their beds. Feeling compassion for the children, the spiders abandoned the warmth of the attic and made their way to the tree, whereupon they spun intricate webs. The Christ Child then appeared and smiled as He looked upon the happy little spiders on the tree. He reached out and touched the webs and, blessing them, turned them into silver and gold. In the light of the morning, the Christmas tree sparkled and shimmered and the family was forever relieved of their poverty from the valuable strands of silver and gold. Thus the custom to have tinsel of silver and gold and a spider ornament amongst the other decorations on the Christmas tree was born.

Christmas PavuchkyLike all good folktales, this one also comes in many versions. Another version of the Christmas spider folklore has the Holy Family hiding in a cave during their flight to Egypt. After the Holy Family entered the cave, the benevolent spiders spun webs to cover the entrance. When Herod’s soldiers passed, they didn’t bother to search the cave as it appeared that it had not been disturbed in quite some time – and the Holy Family was saved by the benevolence of the spiders. 

So, as you hang your ornaments on your tree, you might now want to add at least one small pavučok (tiny spider). You know, just in case.

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