Spiders and Christmas in Europe

Updated on December 18, 2019
harrynielsen profile image

Sometimes, it seems that our lives revolve around the holidays rather than some ordinary job or mundane career that we might have.

This adorable jumping spider wants to wish you a merry Christmas!
This adorable jumping spider wants to wish you a merry Christmas! | Source

In many places on the planet, spiders are seen as symbols of good luck, prosperity, and wealth. This is certainly true in Central and Eastern Europe, where these eight-legged critters are believed to bring good fortune and even money.

Perhaps this explains why in countries like Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Finland, spiders often appear on Christmas trees as a shiny ornament atop an elaborately spun cobweb. In these countries, there exists a colorful collection of stories that tell of how spiders helped the infant Jesus as part of the nativity story.

Spiders and the Tradition of Tinsel

Of all the spider stories revolving around Christmas, one of the most common comes from Poland and Ukraine. This story involves a family of spiders who dwell in a house in which a Christmas tree has just been brought indoors. The tree is placed in a special place and decorated. That night, after the family has gone to bed, the spiders come out of hiding to admire the new addition to the winter household. While doing so, they travel from branch to branch, eventually covering the entire evergreen with their webs. This tale may contribute to the tradition of hanging tinsel and replicas of real spiders on the Yuletide tree in Eastern Europe.

This gigantic Christmas decoration by Japanese installation artist, Chiharu Shiota, definitely resembles a large Spider web.
This gigantic Christmas decoration by Japanese installation artist, Chiharu Shiota, definitely resembles a large Spider web.

Spiders Hide the Baby Jesus

There is also fascinating Christmas story from Eastern European folklore that concerns Joseph, Mary, the infant Jesus, and some spiders. According to this tall tale, Mary and Joseph were fleeing Roman soldiers and decided to hide in a cave with their infant child. To protect the three refugees, a band of spiders wove a web across the front of the cave. When the soldiers arrived, they took one look at the frighteningly strong and sticky barrier and decided not to enter the cave. This story is quite popular in Eastern Europe and an English version can even be found in a few American bookstores.

Baby Jesus and the Spider Blanket

Fortunately for those who love a good story, there are other Christmas yarns that feature spiders. According to Polish legend, spiders made a blanket for the Christ child on the eve of his birth. To honor this good deed, many Polish families hang a replica spider web with a spider in it on their tree to honor the Christmas spiders. Not surprisingly, the spider story has evolved over the years, resulting in several newer versions that are commercially available today. No matter how you look at it, the spider Christmas blanket legend stands as a fascinating way to honor the first Christmas.

Since the birth of Christ, many colorful stories have been added to the Christmas lore, giving new and colorful commentary to the nativity. In The Christmas Spider, Geraldine Ann Maxwell not only adds a fanciful tale about a band of spiders but also other stories about honeybees and crickets.

A Christmas web and spider ornament might look something like this.
A Christmas web and spider ornament might look something like this. | Source

Spider Ornaments

Spider Christmas tree ornaments come in all kinds of sizes, styles, colors, and materials. Many feature a concentric web with a small spider attached, as depicted in the image above. Others are simple, three-dimensional spiders that hang from the tree just like a Christmas bulb or glass figurine. These objects are often made from shiny, reflective materials like glass or glazed pottery. Some people even make their own using craft supplies.

The Origin of Tinsel

Spiders' Unpopularity in the West

In the U.S. and Western Europe, the spider is often viewed as an ominous or devilish animal. As a result, these eight-legged invertebrates are often searched out and systematically destroyed. Furthermore, if a cobweb should be discovered in a human's household, the intrusive web will more likely than not be quickly removed.

Fortunately, much of the remaining world has a much more positive view of spiders, whose presence on the planet is often beneficial, as they devour large quantities of insects and unlike their six-legged cousins, do not carry any diseases that can be contracted by humans.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sculpture of a spider mother by Louise BourgoiseOld German postcard from early 1900sSpiders and spider webs have long fascinated us in a positive way
Sculpture of a spider mother by Louise Bourgoise
Sculpture of a spider mother by Louise Bourgoise | Source
Old German postcard from early 1900s
Old German postcard from early 1900s
Spiders and spider webs have long fascinated us in a positive way
Spiders and spider webs have long fascinated us in a positive way | Source

Fear of Spiders

Arachnids, the scientific class of invertebrates that includes spiders (spiders are not insects), derives its name from a colorful figure in Greek mythology named Arachne. According to legend, Arachne was a mortal woman and artisan who dared to challenge the Gods to a weaving contest. Amazingly, she won, but out of spite, the goddess Athena killed her by hanging her from her own tapestry. Later, Athena took pity on the poor woman and turned her into a spider, which kind of explains why spiders are called arachnids and fear of spiders is called arachnophobia.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Harry Nielsen

    Comments

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      • harrynielsen profile imageAUTHOR

        Harry Nielsen 

        12 months ago from Durango, Colorado

        Not only are spiders considered beneficial, but in some places like Thailand and Cambodia, they are considered fine cuisine. (especially the tarantula)

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 

        12 months ago from England

        Wow! who knew? I still hate the horrible little things, but I believe it, lol!

      • justthemessenger profile image

        James C Moore 

        14 months ago from The Great Midwest

        Wow, I didn't know spiders had so much love throughout the world. I've always had a do not disturb policy when it comes to spider webs. It'll be that much more now that I know how they've contributed to Christmas.

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