There are differing European folk legends dealing with Christmas Spiders from Finland and Scandinavia to the Ukraine and Germany. Some versions include the Christ child, others Saint Nicholas and yet others local versions of Santa Claus / Father Christmas. Some involve a tradition of allowing animals into the house on Christmas day – but no housewife wanted webs all over the place, so spiders were chased out. However, all the stories associate spider webs with Christmas tinsel. And the story’s moral may well be to show that even the smallest creatures are important!
Australian Christmas Spider
The world over, there are sayings and superstitions about spiders. In Europe, most superstitions revolve around spiders bringing luck. From the early 16th century onwards, there are documented sayings about spiders bringing wealth – if found on one’s person. We still call some little spiders, money spiders! Many superstitions instruct people to never kill a spider found in a house. The “house” spider brings good luck and good fortune to the inhabitants – and, of course, they do eat a lot of the insects we do not want around – flies, mosquitoes and earwigs for example.
Myths about spiders date from early times – on this site you have the myth of Arachne from Greece and one from Africa about the trickster god Anansi. In Japan, Spider Woman ensnares careless travelers, whilst in native North Americans myths she is usually associated with birth. In Norse mythology spiders weave people’s fates. The stories are as widespread as arachnids are themselves!
Did you know that an Australian spider is commonly called the Christmas Tree Spider because it looks as though it has something similar to a Christmas Tree on its back?
How did Christmas trees come about?
Christmas tree with tinsel
For thousands of years fir trees have been associated with winter festivals – pagans used branches for decoration during the winter solstice, Romans decorated their temples with them during Saturnalia and houses throughout the world have been decorated with fir branches as symbols of life. German mystery plays, performed on Christmas Eve, used a pyramid of wood to symbolise the Paradise tree in the Garden of Eden.
The first documented use of a tree to celebrate Christmas is in 1510, in Riga, Latvia: a ceremony was attended by men wearing black hats and the tree was burnt afterwards. Further examples of the use of fir trees for Christmas celebrations were recorded in northern Europe throughout the 16th century. The first person to take a tree into the house may have been the German preacher, Martin Luther. In the early days, Christmas trees in Germany were decorated with edible things like gingerbread and apples. Soon glassmakers started making small ornaments to hang.
In Britain, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s German husband, missed the tradition and so brought a tree into the palace and decorated it. The idea soon caught on and nowadays people see the decorated fir tree as one of the central features of Christmas celebrations.
Who is Santa Claus?
Painting of St Nicholas
The idea of Santa Claus can be traced back to Saint Nicholas of Myra (which is now in Turkey). Nicholas was from a wealthy Christian family, and was kind and benevolent. There are many stories of his secretly helping people who were poor or in difficulty – legend has it that he even threw money down the chimney of people he wanted to help. He became so popular that he was made the Bishop of Myra and eventually made a Saint of children and sailors.
In the 16th Century, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas became unpopular and so, in Britain, the character of children’s stories, Father Christmas, became the one who delivered presents to children. When St. Nicholas became popular again in Victorian times, the Dutch name for him of ‘Sinterklaas’ soon became our modern 'Santa Claus'!