On Christmas Eve Mother Spider paused a moment after delivering her babies, looked through the branches of the small fir tree to watch the sun set over the Austrian snow drifts. She sensed she would not live to see Christmas morning. She did not mind so much—for spiders only had a brief span on this earth—but she wanted to leave her darling little children a special memory of their mother before she went away.
A heavy thud interrupted her thoughts. Running to the tip of the branch she saw a woman, wrapped in rags, chopping away. Mother Spider had heard legends of humans putting evergreen trees in their houses on Christmas Eve, hoping that an angel—one of those who heralded the birth of the Christ Child centuries ago—would visit every home. The tree which symbolized best of love and peace merited the granting of the family’s wish for the New Year, whatever that wish might be.
Mother Spider consoled her children who became frightened by the jostling and thumping as the woman dragged the tree from the forest into her small cottage. Two little girls and a boy ran to the door and, with giggles galore, helped their mama set the tree in the corner by the fireplace.
“My dears,” the woman told them, “we won’t be decorating the tree this year because I didn’t have time to gather nuts and holly. We have no fruit to adorn the branches.”
“Don’t worry, Mother,” the older girl replied as she patted her mother’s shoulders. “We remember how pretty the tree looked before father died last year. That’s enough.”
“We’ll decorate the tree with our Christmas memories,” the boy joined in. “It shall be the prettiest tree we’ve ever seen.”
The woman put her face in her hands and cried.
“Don’t cry, Mother,” the other girl cooed. “It’s Christmas. We’re together. What more shall we want?”
“You don’t understand, children.” She wiped her face with a cloth. “If we can’t pay the landlord at the first of the month, we’ll be cast out in the snow.”
“We always have the Christmas angel.” The boy hugged her. “Surely she’ll see this is the best tree in all the kingdom and grant our wish.”
After kissing and hugging each of her children, the woman gave them bowls of porridge for their supper. Then the family settled on an old feather mattress, snuggling under worn quilts, and fell asleep.
Even as she felt the life slowly slip from her body, Mother Spider decided she would decorate the family’s tree with the last of her web. She told her little spiders what she was doing and that they should stay nestled among the branches for they had had a long, busy day and needed their rest. When she was sure they were all in a deep slumber, Mother Spider began her task, beginning at the bottom of the tree and working her way to the top, spreading her silvery fragile tinsel.
At first she didn’t think she had the strength to finish her job, but she paused to consider the poor woman and her three loving children who needed the angel to grant their Christmas wish. When she finally reached the top of the fir tree, Mother Spider turned because she thought she heard the flapping of gossamer wings.
There before her was the Christmas Angel, emanating her soft heavenly light. The spider breathed deeply, trying to stay alive for a few moments more. The angel glided to the tree.
“My dear little spider,” the angel whispered in a loving lilt. “What have you done?” She smiled. “You don’t have to speak. I can read your heart. Rest, tender spider, for your labor has won your wish for this desperate family. Behold, your web is now silver spangles and when you depart your body, I shall make it into a brooch of rubies and diamonds.”
Mother Spider looked down to see her baby spiders scampering across the branches.
“Your children are here to say their farewell. Go now. What a gift you have given them.”
The next morning the woman and her daughters and son awoke to the sun coming through the window, making the silver tinsel shine. They danced and sang around the tree. Then the mother noticed the ornament at the top and screamed for joy when she saw the rubies and diamonds. The family never wanted for anything again, and shared its good fortune with the destitute of the village.
In the years to come, the spiders who witnessed their mother’s transformation into the grandest Christmas gift ever, told their children who in turn told their children of the miracle. Each one wished that one wintry night they would be fortunate enough to live in a fir tree chosen to be blessed by the Christmas Angel.
(Author‘s note: This is a new interpretation of the Christmas spider legend.)