Heroes of Myth and Legend: The Christmas Spiders of Ukraine

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Every year in December, people who celebrate Christmas hang strings of lights, garlands and ornaments on evergreen trees. But when you decorate your tree, do you ever put spider ornaments on it? Not many people do—unless they live in Ukraine. The children of Ukraine do put spider ornaments on their Christmas trees, and here’s the reason why.

A long time ago in a small village there lived a widow who had four children. This widow was a tailor, and a good one. She made beautiful dresses and fancy suits for the ladies and gentlemen in a nearby city, and she made just enough money to provide the necessities for her young family.  To keep her children clothed, she would take the larger pieces of fabric that were left over after from her sewing projects, and piece together dresses, pants and shirts for her little ones. When she finished, even smaller fabric scraps would be left over, and these she would give to her children to use. Her children made little toys for themselves from those small scraps, like hackey-sack-type balls or tiny dolls.

The family lived on the edge of a forest, but they didn’t have any trees on their property. They had a small yard in the back, which they turned into a garden to grow vegetables, and a tiny front yard. Although they could see beautiful pine trees from their home, they didn’t have permission to decorate any of those trees for Christmas, so the children had never had their own Christmas tree.

On her way home from school one day, the oldest girl, who was about nine or ten years old, saw a pinecone half-buried in branches that the squirrels had missed. There were still pine nuts in that pine cone. She knew if she planted it, it might grow into a pine tree, and she was so excited! She planted the pinecone, pine nuts and all, in the tiny front yard, and hoped all winter that it would sprout in the spring.

The most amazing thing happened. Not only did a little tree sprout, but that spring was the warmest and earliest spring anyone in Ukraine could remember. Usually it’s fairly chilly in Ukraine in spring, but this year was different. The children watered the little tree and protected it from insects and animals that wanted to eat it, and it grew so fast! The summer was long and hot, and the first snow didn’t fall until the middle of October. By then, the tree had grown almost three feet tall, as tall as the youngest child in the widow’s family. And the children had a wonderful idea.

If they saved the tiny fabric scraps left over from their mom’s sewing projects, they could sew those scraps into Christmas ornaments! Ornaments made of cloth would be light and wouldn’t hurt the little tree, and they could have a decorated tree for the very first time ever.

Now so far, I’ve told you what these children didn’t have. They didn’t have much money, they didn’t have many toys, they didn’t have a big yard to play in, and their father, who had been a soldier, had given his life to protect his country and his family. But I haven’t told you what the children did have.

They had an amazing family. Everyone in that family was kind, generous and loving. The mother was patient and understanding, and the children looked for ways to help her and each other. They were incredibly kind. So kind, in fact, that everyone who knew them, loved them.  The children were happy to help their neighbors and they cared about other people so much. In fact, because they knew how busy their mom was, guess who ended up doing most of the housework? It was those four children. And the children were so nice that when they were cleaning the house and sweeping the floor, if they found a spider, what do you think they did? Did they squish it? Or dump it outside? No, they would think about how cold it was outside, and how sad the spider would be to be dumped out in the cold. They would carefully take the spider and put it in another part of the house, so it would be safe. Not many people are that kind! So you see, in a way these children were incredibly lucky.

The spiders paid the children back for their kindness by eating all the bugs that sneaked into the house, like bedbugs and fleas and lice, that might bite the children as they slept. But the spiders wished they could do more.  

As the time grew closer to Christmas, the children were able to gather some really nice fabric. Their mother was making Christmas dresses and fancy suits for the wealthy people in the village and in the city nearby, and the cloth was beautiful. The children gathered pretty scraps of gold and silver and beautiful bright jewel colors. They were so excited about the ornaments they were going to make!

But these were really kind children, and they found out something. They found out that a family in the village, who was going to have a baby, couldn’t afford everything the baby needed. The other people in the village had shared their old baby clothes that their own children couldn’t fit anymore, so the young couple had lots of clothes for the new baby, but they didn’t own a blanket to wrap that baby in. Not one. These were super kind children. I bet you can guess what they did. They took all those beautiful scraps of fabric and they made the most beautiful soft, comfy, warm blanket that a baby could ever want and they brought it to that family and gave it to them for Christmas. They felt really good about it. They weren’t even disappointed that they weren’t going to be able to make their Christmas ornaments, they were happy they could help.

But you know who wasn’t happy?

The spiders.

The spiders weren’t happy one bit. They were really upset, because now the kindest children in the village, possibly the kindest children in the whole world, wouldn’t be able to decorate their Christmas tree.

The night before Christmas, on Christmas Eve, the spiders gathered in the attic. “The children worked so hard all year taking care of that tree,” said one spider.
“They’re always so kind to us,” said another.
“It’s not fair!” said the littlest spider.
“We should decorate that tree ourselves!” shouted the oldest spider.
Every spider cheered! Together they scurried down the stairs, across the old wooden floor, and under a crack in the front door and out into the snow. It was so cold out there! The spiders had to be quick so they didn’t freeze. They ran over to the tree. The orb spiders started making the most beautiful tiny webs they could make. Others started going around and around the tree making spider silk garlands from the bottom all the way to the very top. Others climbed up branches and rappelled off, making little strings like icicles. It was beautiful, but now the spiders were so cold they could barely feel their little feet, so they hurried back inside. They climbed upstairs to the attic and looked out the window. They could hardly wait until Christmas morning came and the children saw the tree.

But then something happened they did not expect. Thick, white fog rolled in. There’s almost never fog in the middle of the winter in Ukraine! That shouldn’t have happened! The spiders couldn’t even see the tree from the window. What a mess! They hoped the fog would blow away, but it swirled in the wind and stayed put. The spiders said, “This is terrible! The children will never even know we decorated that beautiful tree for them!”

At last morning came, and when the sun came out, the stubborn fog just melted away. Then the spiders saw a miracle. The tree, covered in spider webs and spider silk, had been soaked in the fog, and the fog had frozen into millions of tiny sparkly crystals of hoarfrost on every single web and every single strand of silk. That little tree looked like it had been covered in diamonds, and every diamond sparkle split the sunlight into rainbows of colors. It was the most beautiful thing the spiders had ever seen! When the children woke up that morning, they went outside to sing Christmas carols around their little tree, and when they saw the spider’s gift, they could not believe their eyes! That tiny Christmas tree was the most sparkly, glittery, beautifully decorated tree that had ever existed or would ever exist in the world. And it all happened because the children were so kind to the little spiders.

That’s why the children of Ukraine put spiders on their Christmas trees!

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