What Is A Christmas Spider And Where Did The Tradition Come From?

The tales are many, but all center on good fortune.

Spider web

Liliya Krueger/Getty

Last year I found a giant, and I mean absolutely gargantuan, spider in my laundry the day after we brought our Christmas tree home from the lot. I was convinced the baby tarantula (or so I called it) had been a passenger on the S.S. Fraser Fir that sat in the living room just steps from the mudroom and my massive piles of laundry. I counted myself lucky that I didn’t accidentally pick it up along with my pile of whites but, it turns out, it might have been luckier if I had found the spider on our actual tree instead. 

The legend of the Christmas spider has ties to tinsel, but comes with a whimsical tale (or four) which likely found their way from Ukraine. Regardless of where this bit of festive folklore originated, the tradition of the Christmas spider now lives on in homes across the world where a tiny spider or web ornament is tucked within the branches of a holiday spruce. Spiders, preferably the ornamental kind, are said to bring luck in the new year, which is why many still hang them on their trees each season.

Pick up one ornament or a whole collection, and choose your adventure with these legends of the Christmas spider. 

Legends Of The Christmas Spider

The first story, begins with a pinecone that had started to grow into a pine just outside the home of a widow and her children. It was summer and the children were filled with joy at the thought of growing a tree in time for Christmas. Fast forward to Christmas Eve and the tree stood bare as the family didn’t have enough money to buy decorations. When they woke on Christmas morning, a spider had covered the tree in cobwebs, which miraculously turned to gilded strands of silver and gold when touched by the early morning light from a nearby window. The widow was filled with gratitude for all she had been given from that day on. 

Another version shared by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension focuses on two mothers, one a spider and the other a peasant. They both give to the other, with the peasant woman allowing the spider and her family to live among the branches of their Christmas tree and the mama spider, in turn, repaying the favor by decorating the tree with gorgeous, shimmering webs that covered the branches. 

A more modern take on the Christmas spider legend is currently being developed into a performance by the American Opera Project. The story goes like this: A poor woodcutter and his children are cold and hungry one Christmas Eve night. At odds with their landlady who is threatening to take their home, they meet a spider who manages to change it all and yet somehow bring them closer together. It’s a little bit of A Christmas Carol, but with a twist.  

The final tale starts with a tree covered in spider webs, but Santa is the one who gets all the glory. When he dropped by to scatter gifts for the children, he saw the tree covered in gray webs left by happy spiders who had traveled down from the dusty attic to behold the spruce. Weaving their webs, they had left a trail of attic dust with each strand of their web. Santa turned the once gray webs into glorious silver strands of tinsel. 

From tinsel to pickles to spiders and their webs, the traditions surrounding our favorite holiday décor seem to grow every year. Thankfully, we’re always here for a good story—and yet another reason to go ornament shopping. 

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