Have you ever pondered tinsel, that dazzling decoration used to adorn the Christmas tree? To some the silvery strands evoke images of glistening icicles or shimmering crystals of frost on the branches of a sylvan evergreen, but how did tinsel become part of a holiday tradition in so many households? To aficionados of arachnids, the tradition of festive tinsel has several different origins. One Christian story tells of Mary’s harrowing escape from Roman soldiers as she and Jesus hid in the hills near Bethlehem. With Herod’s legion in hot pursuit, Mary entered a cave seeking refuge. Spiders quickly sealed the entrance with silk and when soldiers arrived and saw the undisturbed webs, they disregarded the cave as a hideaway and continued their search elsewhere.
Since that time, tinsel has been strung on Christmas trees to represent a glistening spider web and commemorate the spider’s miraculous deed. Other tinsel legends from Germany and the Ukraine tell of spiders escaping the broom of a housekeeper by hiding in dark corners of the attic as preparations were made for holiday celebrations. After exiting their redoubts on Christmas Eve, spiders excitedly explored the evergreen tree that had been brought inside and left behind a cloak of gossamer webs.
When Father Christmas arrived that night and saw the gray spider webs, he miraculously changed them into sparkling silver strands much to the delight of the family who viewed the tree on Christmas morning. Since that time tinsel has been strung as a symbol of the remarkable event. During the holiday season it is not surprising to receive a phone call or two about a Christmas tree infested with dozens of tiny spiders.
Many spiders survive winter’s chill as eggs protected in silken sacs. If the spider’s last haunt was a spruce or fir, then egg sacs may enter homes as stowaways on Christmas trees. In the warmth of holiday homes, eggs hatch, and humans may be the fortunate recipients of dozens of unexpected visitors in, on, and under the Christmas tree as tiny arachnids recreate the legend of the Christmas spider.