Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Legend of the Christmas Spider

One of my holiday gifts this year was a unique spider ornament, handcrafted from various materials. It came inside a box that explained its significance. “The Legend of the Christmas Spider” it said, followed by this story:

”A long time ago in Germany a mother was busily cleaning for Christmas. The spiders fled upstairs to the attic to escape the broom. When the house became quiet the spiders slowly crept downstairs for a peek. Oh, what a beautiful tree! In their excitement they scurried up the trunk and out along each branch. They were filled with happiness as they climbed amongst the glittering beauty. But, alas! By the time they were through climbing, the tree was completely shrouded in their dusty gray spider webs. When Santa came with the gifts for the children and saw how happy the spiders were he knew how heartbroken the mother would be if she saw the tree covered with the dusty webs. He turned the webs to silver and gold. The tree sparkled and shimmered and was even more beautiful than before. That’s why we have tinsel on our Christmas tree and every tree should have a Christmas Spider in its’ branches.”


Looking online, I find numerous references to the above story, but strangely I find nothing in the two reference books where I would have expected the legend to be recounted. Still, I find folklore like this to be a good sign that spiders are not always the “bad guys,” looked at with disdain, fear, and loathing.

Another thing I find fascinating is that while people may find spiders revolting, those same humans are likely to consider spider webs, especially outdoor orb webs, to be magnificent and beautiful feats of natural engineering. We need to translate that love for webs to spiders themselves, and I think the tide may be turning in this regard.

Next week: Christina Applegate’s spider, “Seymour.”

Sources: Climo, Shirley. 1985. Someone Saw a Spider: Spider Facts and Folktales. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. 133 pp.
Hillyard, Paul. 1994. The Book of the Spider: From Arachnophobia to the Love of Spiders. New York: Random House. 218 pp.


  1. We have had a beaded Christmas Spider in the tree since my Children were very young :)

  2. There is a German-American household that was once visited by a famous entomology-author. He found a dense, dusty and disorganized spider web in the corner of a widow. He pronounced the black spider a Kuculcania and called her special. So she became an accepted member of the household and since she hasn't died she' been growing happily ever after.

  3. This also from Margarethe: "Hi Eric, I like your xmas spider story, but I think you should replace Santa with Christ Child. Santa in the form that you describe is a rather recent invention of the American business community and not very old. In traditional Germany, Nikolaus came on Dec. 6th, with candy, fruit and nuts or a broom for the bad kids, but at that time there are no christmas trees yet. We put those up just before the 24th (we use real candles, remember). On Christmas eve the christ child himself then has to bring the real gifts, and turn spider webs into tinsel, too."

  4. I love this story - and now want to find Spider ornaments for our future Christmas trees!

  5. This makes me want to put a spider (or two) in my Christmas tree this year. Maybe I'll bring tinsel back into fashion this Christmas season. Thanks for the reminder of the Christmas Spider legend!


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