During the Christmas season in Eastern Europe, especially in Ukraine, it’s common to see spiders and spider webs dangling from Christmas trees. They could be gold, silver, or a whole range of other colors; some may be bejeweled, while others are plain. These artistic arachnids aren’t repurposed Halloween decorations—they’re part of a holiday tradition that began in the late 19th or early 20th century.
Its origins are said to lie in a folktale from the region often called The Legend of the Christmas Spider. The story is about an impoverished widow and her children who look forward to decorating the pine tree that grew in their garden after a pinecone fell there. But they can’t afford to buy any decorations for the tree when the holiday season arrives.
As the story goes, the spiders that dwell in their house hear the family crying one night because of this, and decide to adorn the branches with their webs. The next morning, their silky creations glittered gold and silver in the sunlight, and the widow and her children were never short of anything again.
The legend of the arachnids’ gifts is now known around the world, and the custom of Ukrainians and people in other parts of Eastern Europe hanging spider webs from their Christmas trees continues to this day. The story has even inspired an opera, The Christmas Spider, from The American Opera Project.
Spiders are often associated with good luck in Ukraine, so it has become customary not to remove cobwebs over the holiday season. It’s thought this will bring good luck for the new year ahead. Not giving spiders the boot also acts as a symbol of gratitude, representing the appreciation the family in the folktale felt for the good fortune the spiders’ generous actions brought their way and the happiness they found after receiving the gift of their webs.