This is one of my favorite stories to tell. It's magical, somehow logical, and imbued with the spirit of the season.
This is how I tell it. I like the repetitions for children to be able to join in the telling of the tale.
The Christmas Spider
One Christmas Eve a long time ago, an old woman was busily preparing her home for the holidays. She had a lot to do—cooking, baking, cleaning. Her Christmas tree stood in the corner and she often looked at it and thought, “The Tree! The Tree! I need to decorate the tree!” But she had so much to do!
Late that evening, all the work was done—the cookies were baked, the house was clean, the windows sparkled in the candlelight. The old woman thought, “The Tree! The Tree! I need to decorate the tree!” She poured a cup of tea from the kettle steaming by the fireplace, carried her cup to her favorite rocking chair, and sat down to rest—just for a minute. Looking up, she saw one spider’s web that she had missed in her cleaning. “I’ll get that web with my broom as soon as I finish my tea,” she thought.
She stared into the fire thinking about how wonderful it would be on Christmas Day with all her grandchildren coming to visit. As she sat and sipped and rocked, she grew sleepier and sleepier. She looked at the tree and thought, “The Tree! The Tree! I need to decorate the tree!” But her eyes drooped, closed…and soon she was fast asleep.
Up in the web, the spiders were curious. Every year the old woman had run them out with her cleaning, but this year they had all hidden in that one web high up in the corner of the ceiling, and she had forgotten about them. “Why did she bring a tree in her house?” asked a little spider. “I’m not sure,” answered on older, wiser spider. “Let’s go down and see.”
The spiders crept out of their hiding place. The swung on their webs down to the tree, and when they landed on its branches, they crawled all over it, leaving bright silver strings of webbing behind them. When they had examined every part of the tree, they still were not sure why the old woman had brought it in, and they returned to their web on the ceiling.
In the morning, when the old woman woke up, she was so surprised! Her tree was covered with spider webs. But as she looked, the sun came through the window and caught the webs in its rays. The spider webs started to sparkle and shine! They had all turned into sparkling, shimmering silver and gold.
At that moment, the door burst open and in came her grandchildren. “Grandmother! Your tree is so beautiful! Look how it shines! This is even better than the decorations you usually use!” The old woman smiled, and looked up at the spider web. “I had help from many friends,” she said. "I hope they come back every year to decorate my tree.”
Every year after that, when the old woman cleaned her house for Christmas, she always made sure to leave one web for the spiders, and they always came to help decorate her tree on Christmas Eve.
According to legend, this is why people hang tinsel on their Christmas trees today. In many places, it is also the custom to include a spider among the decorations on the tree. The tinsel and the spiders are reminders of that long-ago Christmas and those busy, busy spiders.
You can find other versions of this old folktale online at:
Amazon.com lists at least six different versions of the story in picture books, as well as a puppet play.