A Christmas for Spiders

(This column was first published in the December 17, 1998 Buffalo News.)

    Some time ago I heard a Christmas story that had been passed down through many generations of Polish families. As it seems appropriate for this column, I recount it here as nearly as I remember it.

    Near the town of Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains of Poland lived a little girl named Rasina. Although her family was poor, theirs was a warm and loving home and Rasina was a happy child.

    Now it was time for the Christmas celebration and Rasina's mother announced that they must clean the house to prepare for the holy day. Everyone must pitch in to make their home spotless.

    Windows and walls were washed, floors were scrubbed and waxed, rugs were taken out to be hung across clotheslines where they were beaten and then left to absorb the fresh mountain air. Shoes were cleaned of snow and ice but from now on they were left in the doorway and everyone entered their home only in stocking feet, even Rasina's father and her older brother.

    Rasina helped her mother with the overall cleaning but she took special responsibility for her own small room in the loft of the cottage. She swept and polished her floors. She polished her little window until it shone in the sunlight. But when she began to clean her walls and ceiling, she noticed small spiders hiding in their tiny webs.

    Unlike most children, Rasina admired the industrious little spiders. She wouldn't kill them and she couldn't bear to put them out in the cold either. She compromised by carefully clearing away the cobwebs and leaving the spiders free to retreat into cracks where they would be safe.

    By Christmas eve the house was immaculate. Rasina's father and brother brought in the lovely spruce tree they had long ago selected in the forest and stood it across from the fireplace. Rasina and her mother popped corn and strung it in loops around the tree while her father and brother hung their wood carvings from its branches. Finally her father carefully reached up and placed the paper angel Rasina had cut out on the very top of the tree.

    Now off to bed they went, Rasina and her brother hoping that St. Nicholas would leave fruit and candy for them under the tree. When she said her prayers Rasina remembered the little spiders and she asked that they too be allowed to enjoy Christmas.

    Her prayer deeply affected her because she woke in the night to hear the soft sound of many spider feet marching out of their hiding places and on toward the Christmas tree. Intrigued by this procession, she crept down the stairs and watched in horror as they quickly filled the spruce with their drab gray webs. They had ruined the beauty of the simply decorated tree. Rasina returned to her bed, saddened that she had prayed for the spiders and worried about what her family would think in the morning.

    But during the night a miracle occurred. The angel at the top of the tree came to life and sprinkled moonbeams onto the webs. The cobwebs turned from gray to silver and sparkled when the morning light shined through the windows.

    Rasina and her family were so proud of their tree that they invited everyone in the village to come and see what the spiders had done. The news about this special tree spread and since then, finding a spider or its web in a Christmas tree is considered the very best of luck -- not only in Poland but in the rest of the world as well.

    Wesolych swiat. -- Gerry Rising