I learned a lot of rules for life from Ukrainian babushkas: Don’t whistle inside or all of your money will fly out of your pocket. Never throw away bread, no matter how stale or moldy; feed it to animals instead. Hoping to stay healthy during the winter? Eat raw garlic. And never squish a spider in your house, especially around Christmastime.
Not only do spiders get special protection during the holidays, they also get an honored place in Christmas decor. Often, Ukrainians who put up a Christmas tree include small spider ornaments and tinsel to represent spider webs. So on the Second Day of Imported Christmas we made tiny beaded pavuchky (little spiders) for our tree.
As with all folktales, there are several versions of how spiders became a part of the Eastern European Christmas tradition. In the version I’ve heard, a widow and her children lived in poverty in a tiny hut. One year, a pinecone dropped to the ground and started to grow. The children, eager to have a tree of their own, took great care of the sapling, watering it and ensuring it had plenty of sun. They would dream together of the beautiful decorations they would include on their tree for Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, the tree had grown well, but the family’s finances had not. The widow sadly broke it to the children that they had no money for decorations and the tree would have to remain bare. Resigned, they went to bed.
When all was still, spiders crept out from the corners and crevices of the hut to see the tree the children had taken such care of. Determined that the tree should not remain bare, the spiders spent all night weaving delicate webs across the branches.
In the morning, the children threw open the shutters to see their tree. As the sunlight hit the branches, the webs turned to strands of gold and silver, creating a stunningly decorated Christmas tree. From that point on, the widow and her children never wanted for anything.
I made our pavuchky out of wire and beads. I started with large beads for the body and head, then wrapped wire between them and added small beads for the legs. The wire makes it easy to pose the legs and a little extra wire out of the back of the body makes it looks like the pavuchok is spinning a web on the tree. I used superglue to hold everything in place and secure the beads to the end of the wire. You can wait for the superglue to dry on its own, but I prefer to use an accelerator because I’m impatient.
I love seeing these tiny spiders in our tree. Now we just need tinsel.
Twelve Days of Imported Christmas
- The First Day: Sfincione—Sicily’s Christmas Pizza
- The Second Day: Pavuchky—Ukraine’s 8-Legged Decorators
- The Third Day: Chicken Bones—New Brunswick’s Crunchy Christmas Treat
- The Fourth Day: Advent Wreath—Germany’s Candlelit Countdown
- The Fifth Day: Julbord—Sweden’s Christmas Feast
- The Sixth Day: Mince Pies—England’s Medieval Advent Treat