In a quiet cottage in the woods lived a gentle widow and her eight children. The widow worked very hard to keep her children warm and well-fed, but money was not plentiful. When the air grew crisp, and the snow began to fall, the widow knew Christmas was coming. But instead of feeling joyful as the holiday approached, she felt sadness and sorrow. She knew that she did not have enough money to buy her children any gifts to open on Christmas morning.
"I cannot afford new toys or books," she thought, walking home through the woods one night. "What will I give my children?"
On Christmas Eve the family ate their simple Christmas dinner together, and the widow tried to conceal her worries. After tucking her excited children snugly into bed, she pulled her chair close to the fire and tried to erase the visions of their little disappointed faces from her mind. After all, what fun is Christmas morning without gifts to open?
"Perhaps a Christmas tree would make my children happy," the widow sighed.
She put on her coat and hat and walked through the woods in search of the right tree. She chose a small but beautiful evergreen, chopped it down with her husband's ax, and brought it to the cottage.
For hours, the widow carefully decorated the fragrant tree branches with colorful fruits, bits of ribbon, and Christmas cookies. Then she blew out her candle and went to bed, hoping the tree would make her children's empty Christmas a little bit brighter.
While the tired widow slept, tiny spiders crept from the cracks and corners of the cottage. They had watched her hard at work, decorating the tree for her children. Onto the branches they jumped, spinning delicate strands of silky web which gracefully covered the small tree from trunk to top. It was a beautiful sight.
When the family awoke on Christmas morning, they could not believe their eyes. The webs of silk had been turned into pure silver, covering the tree with dazzling brightness! During the night, Santa Claus had come with gifts for the children and saw the tree covered with spiderwebs. He smiled as he saw how happy the spiders were, but knew how heartbroken the widow would be if she saw her tree covered with spiderwebs. So he turned the silky webs into pure, shining silver. The next morning, as the widow watched her children sing and dance around the beautiful shining tree, she knew it would be a wonderful Christmas after all!
From that day forward, people have hung strands of shiny silver tinsel on their Christmas trees in honor of the poor widow and her tiny Christmas spiders. -- By Stephanie Herbek
Now you know about tinsel. To find out about another Christmas symbol, poinsettias, read "The Legend of the Poinsettia" on the next page.