A Christmas Tale: The Ukrainian Legend of the Christmas Spider

The following Christmas tale comes to you from a people who know what it is to live through hard times—and who have managed to retain their dignity and their love and generosity throughout it all.

Traditionally in Ukraine the house is cleaned from top to bottom for Christmas, but any spider discovered in the house will be left undisturbed for the holidays. They are considered good luck and a potent symbol of Christmas. Here is one legend illustrating the role of the spider.

Legend of the Christmas Spider

Many years ago, there lived in a small house a woman with two children. Times were hard in Ukraine, and especially hard in this home, as the father had been drafted by the foreign soldiers who occupied their beloved land. They had needed a skilled blacksmith to tend to their horses, as they were fighting many battles that year, and unfortunately the father of this poor family was the best blacksmith for miles around. Thus, he was far from home.

With the times being so hard, food was scarce, but this Christmas Eve, the mother had still managed to prepare for her small family the traditional dishes. There were only tiny portions of each dish, but they had their kutya (a sweet grain dish with honey and poppy seeds), a very small kolach (slightly sweet yeast bread, shaped into round braided loaf), a few pyrohy (baked filled dumplings) and holubtsi (stuffed cabbage, also known as little pigeons), and several imaginative dishes made from the few vegetables the mother had managed to harvest that fall.

The house had been cleaned properly, the rushnyk (embroidered cloth) washed and pressed and arranged on the icons, and they had brought in a didukh (ornament made from a sheaf of wheat) to place in the corner.

 

The children had watched for the first star, and then they had the special meal, Sviata Vechera. (Christmas Eve Supper).

After, the mother and her son and daughter sang the beautiful koliadky (traditional Christmas Eve songs) and then walked to the church. Even old Baba (grandmother), who had been feeling rather poorly recently, came along.

There were many absent faces; other men and several youths had also been taken from their families by the soldiers. Finally, at night the mother lay in bed unable to sleep. She thought she had done the best she could do with the little they had, except for the yalynka (tree).

The young son had found a small tree and together they had all gone to the forest and cut it down and carried it home. There had still been short stubs of the candles they had used last year, and they had placed them on the tree. They had not lit them yet for they had decided they would wait until the carolers came, so they could share the light the short candles would give with others. There had been no money for the brightly colored papers and gilt papers they usually made ornaments from, and the stocks of flour and honey were so meager that the mother had not dared to bake even a few cookies to hang on the tree. There were just a few short scraps of ribbon the daughter had tied on the branches and three of the precious apples had been polished and strung with string. In the darkness of the night, the mother thought of the poor little tree and prayed to God that the next year the family’s Christmas tree would once again be a gaily decorated as in past years and that her husband would once more be in their home.

Now, also living in the small house was a rather small spider (pavuk). Being a spider, she had not lived very long, but she had been born in this house and had come to love the whole family. Because it was considered good luck to find a spider in the home, no one had ever threatened her life, and she often found crumbs from their meals carefully placed near her web in the corner of the room. It saddened her to think that the mother was so unhappy about the Christmas tree. The spider had never seen a yalynka before, but she had thought it looked quite nice.

The spider walked over to the tree, and thought, “I wonder …,” and then she decided and went straight to work. She was up all night, and as the sun was just starting to rise on the horizon, she was so exhausted that she fell asleep right on the highest branch of the tree.

Still asleep, the poor woman stirred when she heard the cries of her children, “Mother, mother, look! The tree, the tree!” She opened her eyes and stared. The early morning light flooded through the small window and fell on the tree. It was covered from top to bottom with silvery spider webs of the most beautiful design, and there, at the very top, she could see their own dear little spider. “Children, she must have worked through the night to have created such beauty!” the mother exclaimed.

Just then, they heard a sound outside their door, and before they knew what was happening, in came their father. “Tato, tato!” the children called out. As he warmed himself in front of the stove, the father explained how the battles had ended and he had traveled many days by foot to be home for their Sviata Vechera, “But I have arrived too late,” he sadly ended his tale.

“No, no, it is just the beginning.” the mother said, “look at the miracle our little spider has wrought on our poor Christmas tree! She has brought us good luck – a beautiful tree and our father and dear husband home again—and there are still the many days of celebration till Yordan!” (Yordan or Epiphany on January 19).

The family spent Christmas Day enjoying each other’s company. In the evening, when the carolers came to sing at their home, the father lit the small candles on the tree so they could share its light with their visitors. And the little spider looked down from her high perch and smiled on her beloved family.

MAKE YOUR OWN CHRISTMAS SPIDER
Supplies:
1 15-mm gold bead (or faceted crystal or whatever you wish)
1 7-mm gold bead (or faceted crystal or whatever you wish)
32 small gold bugle beads (or faceted crystal or whatever you wish)
26 gauge wire
Metallic thread
1 2-inch head pin

Put the 7-mm bead on the pin followed by the 15-mm bead. Bend the very end of the pin so the beads do not come off, leaving a little space between the two beads. Cut four pieces of wire and string eight bugle beads on each piece. Bend the ends of the wire so the beads don’t come off. Twist the four wires together around the head pin (with four beads on each side of the twist) between the 7-mm and 15-mm beads to form the Spider’s eight legs. Take the metallic thread (six to eight inches or whatever suits your fancy) and tie it around the middle of the Spider. Tie the ends together to make a loop for hanging. Bend legs to look like a Spider. Hang on your tree and enjoy!

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