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Tabletop Trees: Tinsel Tree

Martha Stewart Living, December 2001

In both Ukrainian and German lore, the tale of the Christmas spider explains the origin of tinsel. The story tells of a poor widow who couldn't buy fancy gifts for her children or decorations for their tree. One Christmas Eve, she decorated a tree as best she could with fruits and nuts. After she went to sleep, spiders came out and crawled over the tree, leaving their webs behind. When Father Christmas visited the house, he saw the web-covered tree and decided to turn the webs to silver. In the morning when the family awoke, the tree was sparkling and beautiful. To this day, many families decorate their trees with tinsel, often including a small silver spider and web, to commemorate this miracle.

On our tinsel tree, a single spider sits in its web amid German-inspired glass-and-tinsel ornaments: icicles we made from vintage garland beads, and butterflies with glass bodies and shimmering tinsel-wire wings.

Return to Tabletop Trees.

Comments (8)

  • Tammie McClure 28 Nov, 2013

    I see that German and Ukranian folks aren't too happy with this "legend" since it isn't actually a real legend from either nation. The story comes from a book written in the last few decades http://www.amazon.com/The-Spiders-Gift-Ukrainian-Christmas/dp/0823417433 It somehow has become folk lore instead of being recognized as just being a work of fairly recent fiction.

  • 0Bea 26 Nov, 2013

    Actually it is pretty disrespectful towards other cultures and towards your readers or fans to make up stories. Some do even believe it, because who cares if people from exactly those areas say that your story is not correct. If someone famous makes up stories, or more likely any lazy assistant who did the job for the famous person, they must be true?

  • 0Bea 26 Nov, 2013

    The comment from Germany is right. We do not celebrate in the morning, but on the evening of the 24th, and I think anyone with high school education should know that, because we learn about your traditions in school, too. The only thing you got right is that we use (now fake) tinsel, and that the first decoration for christmas trees was indeed nuts and fruits. Tinsel was invented in the 19th century. If there is any meaning behind it, then to fake the glittering of icicles and snow on the tree.

  • 0Bea 26 Nov, 2013

    The tree is beautiful. No idea where you got the tinsel story from though. Here, as in Austria, where we share culture and traditions with Germany, we have no father christmas. Our tradition would be the Christ child bringing presents, if anything. I have also never heard of a spider in the tree. We have a sort of Santa Clause as in Nikolaus tradition on the 6th of December, but it has zero to do with Christmas. It is a celebration to honour Saint Nicholas/Nikolaus, Bishop of Myra. Correct it?

  • Steffy Watson 25 Dec, 2012

    Tabletop Trees Centerpiece has given a very coordinate look for a decorations at Christmas party. This is a very nice Centerpiece. Loved this Idea!!!

  • Deirdre Ellen 25 Nov, 2012

    I, too, am of Ukrainian ancestry and have never heard of the spider web being used to decorate a tree, however: never mind the grousing!! It is beautiful, so some suggestions for making the web? Can't find a pretty web just anywhere you know.

  • liliag 23 Dec, 2008

    The same applies to Ukrainian folklore - never heard of Father Christmas (there used to be Grandfather Frost) or spiders (?!) on Christmas trees. Nobody ever put a spider web or a spider on a Christmas tree, nobody ever heard of it. I'm a big fan of Martha, but I'm disappointed about misleadings.

    The tree looks elegant thought.

  • jtw73 18 Dec, 2008

    Maybe this is a Ukrainian celebration but not a German one. First, we celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve - no night where "Father Christmas" - who is Father Christmas? we only have Santa Claus could come and turn spider webs to silver. I never ever heart from spiders in a Christmas tree... and I am from Germany.