Sunday, April 17, 2011

Christmas spider

Up until a few years ago I had never heard of this Christmas folk tale.  Coming from the Ukraine and Germany this tale of a holiday spider helps us remember that even the smallest can make the holiday merry and bright.

Once upon a time, long ago, a gentle mother was busily cleaning the house for the most wonderful day of the year.... The day on which the Christ child came to bless the house. Not a speck of dust was left. Even the spiders had been banished from their cozy corner in the ceiling to avoid the housewife's busy cleaning. They finally fled to the farthest corner of the attic.

T'was the Christmas eve at last! The tree was decorated and waiting for the children to see it. But the poor spiders were frantic, for they could not see the tree, nor be present for the Christ child's visit. But the oldest and wisest spider suggested that perhaps they could peep through the crack in the door to see him. Silently they crept out of their attic, down the stairs, and across the floor to wait in the crack in the threshold. Suddenly, the door opened a wee bit and quickly the spiders scurried into the room. They must see the tree closely, since their eyes weren't accustomed to the brightness of the room... so the crept all over the tree, up and down, over every branch and twig and saw every one of the pretty things. At last they satisfied themselves completely of the Christmas tree beauty.

But alas!! Everywhere they went they had left their webs, and when the little Christ child came to bless the house he was dismayed. He loved the little spiders, for they were God's creatures too, but he knew the mother, who had trimmed the tree for the little children, wouldn't feel the same, so He touched the webs and they all turned to sparkling, shimmering, silver and gold!

Ever since that time, we have hung tinsel on our christmas trees, and according to the legend, it has been a custom to include a spider among the decorations on the tree.  Source
This is a great folk story to explain why we use tinsel on our trees.  Tinsel was first invented in Nuremberg around 1610. Tinsel was originally made from extruded strands of silver. Because silver tarnishes quickly, people began to substitute other shiny metals in the tinsel-making process. Before the 16th century, tinsel was used for adorning sculptures rather than Christmas trees. It was added to early Christmas trees to enhance the flickering of the candles on the tree. Tinsel was also used to represent the starry sky over a Nativity scene.
Metallic tinsel was fragile and costly, made mainly from fool's gold (pyrite), so it was used in small quantities. Only wealthy people would have been able to afford enough tinsel to cover their tree. By the early 20th century, advances in manufacturing made it possible to produce cheap aluminium-based tinsel. This led to most people being able to afford to add tinsel and tinsel garlands to their trees. In fact, during the 1950s, tinsel and tinsel garlands were so popular that they frequently were used more heavily than Christmas lights by many people. The one drawback of the aluminized paper used to create tinsel at this time was that it was flammable. Early Christmas tree lights were quite hot and could start fires, especially when the aluminized paper tinsel got near a hot Christmas tree bulb. Newer Christmas lights are cooler and do not pose as much of a fire hazard.  Source

I remember painstakingly taking each strand of tinsel out of the box and placing it on the tree branches as we decorated for the holiday.  Inevitably the static charge would build up and it would stick to our hands and clothes.  That's one thing I don't miss about those old style decorations.  You would end up finding stands of tinsel hiding behind the couch months later.  Or have it wrapped around the vaccuum brush when you did your post Christmas clean up.  Now we use ribbon as garland and some white berries for contrast.   Any way you look at it, tinsel and the legend of the Christmas spider makes every Christmas special.

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