Why Ukrainians Decorate Christmas Trees With Spider Webs

In the U.S., spider webs are most closely associated with Halloween, while bright and colorful decorations like tinsel and sparkling lights are hung over Christmas. In Ukraine, though — where traditional Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian calendar, between January 6 through January 19 (though more and more Ukrainians observe December 25 as Christmas Day) (via Ukraine.ua) — representations of spiderwebs, sometimes made from straw, are a traditional Christmas decoration, including on Christmas trees (as can be seen above).

As Ukraine.com explains, the spiderweb Christmas tradition in Ukraine, Poland, and in some parts of Germany, is thought to be based on a legend. Unlike elsewhere in the world, in Ukraine, spiders and their webs are not something to be afraid of. Spiders, instead, are seen as something lucky. It's not just their webs that are used as Christmas decorations in Ukraine, either. Some Ukrainians also decorate their homes around Christmas with spider-shaped ornaments, according to Country Living.

According to legend, one Ukrainian widow was too poor for Christmas decorations

According to Ukraine.com, the legend of The Christmas Spider states there was once a widow who lived with her children, and the family was too poor to afford Christmas decorations. One day, the widow's children were excited to see that a tree had naturally taken root near their home. Perhaps the family could have a Christmas tree after all, or so the children thought. As Britannica notes, the traditional Christmas tree has roots in Eastern Europe, including Germany, near Ukraine.

Though unable to decorate their hatchling Christmas tree, the widow's children nonetheless took care of the plant, but they went to bed on Christmas Eve resigned to the fact its branches would remain bare. Poverty of this sort was common all throughout Ukrainian history, as Ukraine.com notes. When the widow and her children woke up the next morning, though, a miracle seemingly transpired, and a whole new Christmas tradition was born.

A spider spun its web on the tree

On that mythical Christmas morning, according to the legend, the widow and her children woke up to find that in the night, a spider spun its web on the branches of the tree, which shimmered and sparkled in the morning light. As Country Living explains, this story, according to some, also explains the origins of tinsel, as some say Jesus or Santa Claus magically transformed the webs into something just as sparkly but less frightening. Either way, the story goes that the widow and her children had good luck from then on. To this day, Ukrainians still use fake spider webs on their Christmas trees and even spider-shaped ornaments called pavuchky, or little spider, as part of their Christmas tradition

According to Why Christmas, pavuchky are sometimes made from paper and silver wire, but they're also sometimes made from beads, per Country Living. As Vancouver Christmas Market explains, spiders and spider webs don't just show up in Ukraine at Christmas. They're also a sign of good luck for New Year's. For those genuinely arachnophobic, none of this is likely to change your mind. But that said, if an eight-legged visitors come to your home this holiday season, remember the Ukrainian Christmas spider story.