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Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I know Christmas is over, but some of the Christmas legends annoy me. A faithful reader has put forth a vague memory of the "Christmas Spider", a German legend, which for me is right up there with the Christmas Pickle and the Little Drummer Boy.
The Little Drummer Boy has going for it the thought that something like that could have happened. Far-fetched, given the time and place and the state of music and drumming, but as there was music and drumming way back then it's at least possible.
The Christmas Pickle, has going for it the thought that St. Nicholas was a saint and therefore may have worked this miracle, implausible though it may be.
But the Christmas Spider....what's the matter with these Germans anyhow?
I shouldn't complain. They are Christmas maniacs, as am I.
So to compare: the Little Drummer Boy is a boy lad who shows up with the shepherds at the first Christmas and has no gift to give the new Baby. The Little Drummer Boy plays a 'tune' on his drum as a gift. It's a pretty long song with a drum solo that is not played on a drum but sung by men singing "pum puddley pum". With straight faces. It's a touching Christmas story. The Baby Jesus smiles.
Don't they always say that when babies that young smile, it's gas? Oh well, not this time.
I realize the Little Drummer Boy is not a legend, but a song. I believe the story has just about achieved legend status. I like the song. I don't like seeing the Little Drummer Boy standing around the manger in statue form.
The Christmas pickle is a little harder to follow and a little Sweeney Toddish. An evil innkeeper chops up two or three boys and pickles them in the pickle barrel. I don't believe there is an explanation for this crime. At least Sweeney Todd had a motive. St. Nicholas arrives and frees the boys who emerge unharmed. So the Germans.........yes, them again............hide a glass pickle ornament in the tree and the child that finds it either wins a prize or gets good fortune for the year. (I told you it was hard to follow.)
We don't care for this. Good fortune is just another way of saying Good Luck. We'll go with holy cards. I have three Christmas pickles for my tree. Being green, they are quite hard to find. We let visitors find them over and over and give out holy cards. What fun!
The Christmas Spider tops them all. In this story, Mama has cleaned the house all spic and span the way only a German woman can.
Let me just stop for a moment here and say, I am German. My family is German. The small town I grew up in is so German that even if you're not German, you become German by osmosis. These people scrub the pavement in front of their houses, get down on their hands and knees and dust each corner of each stair in the house then go outside and sweegy the tree limbs.
Back in our story, the spiders go hide in the attic from Mama's broom but they are sad to miss all the Christmas fun and not see the tree, so on Christmas eve they sneak down to the parlor. This is all the idea of the Elder Spider, by the way, in case you want to stage a play about it. Down they go.
According to this story, spiders don't see very well, so in order to get a good look at the tree, they climb all over it, covering it in webs. When the Christ Child arrives for His Christmas visit (I know, this is a new one on me, too, even with all those old Germans in the house). He is dismayed to see how the spiders have pretty much ruined the tree. He is sad the children will be disappointed but He doesn't want to hurt the spiders' feelings because He loves them, too. He touches the webs and they turn to silver.
And that's why we have TINSEL.
Can you stand it?
This is where I have to get off the boat. Can we just stick a little closer to the New Testament? We've already fudged the story of the Men from the East left and right. The King James Bible has changed the all important statement made by the angels to the shepherds from "Peace on Earth to men of good will" to the cushy gushy feel goody, "Peace on Earth good will toward men" as though we have no responsibility in the matter... can we please draw the line at the Christmas Spider?
I'll gladly vacuum up the Christmas spider and jettison him and his family across the street to the McMansion and not even feel guilty. They're Episcopalians over there. They'll love it.
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My (German) grandparents gave me a Christmas Pickle to hang on the tree a couple years ago. The prize for finding it last year was a bottle of Butterscotch Schnapps. Is that better or worse than "good fortune?"
I think this year it might be Peppermint Schnapps...kind of holiday-ish. And yes, our tree is still up - we are having a Christmas party this weekend...better late than never. :-)
The kid who found our pickle this year got a book of poetry - that's how I sneak in things I think belong on our bookshelves. I think in a few years, I'll have to give cash away, or nobody will go hunting.
But don't get down on the poor spiders just because you have a nasty infestation! In the story I read the kids, it is Tante who cleans and readys everything for Christmas and who falls asleep hoping to see a Christmas miracle. And, yes, Krist Kindle is the one working the magic...I learned about him way back in high school German classes, so somewhere in that diverse country it is the Christ Child bringing presents.
I'd rather have the baby Jesus delivering gifts than a fat man in a red suit who hangs out with elves at the North Pole. Today's Santa bears little resemblance to the saint who was a bishop, and my kids struggle every year with the difference between mom's version of St. Nick and the secular versin of Santa. It's confusing to a 5 year old. I try to add as many different stories in there to really mess things up: in Russia, it's Babushka bringing the treats.
I do hang two spider ornaments on the tree, but no tinsel. And no drummer boy anywhere.
hey! leave the episcopalians out of the spider thing.
I've read that the drummer boy was invented by a Wellesley music instructor who was also a choral composer of some repute. But she based him on some older stories, like Anatole France's Clown of God; France based his story on older stories still. So it's not really a legend, but it borrows from some other legends.
I'm German on one side, but I'd never heard the pickle story until very recently. Is it from those nawthern Germans?
In December, 1964 I believe it was, my across-the-street neighbor set up speakers on his roof to blare Christmas music out into the neighborhood from 6 to 10 PM every night, and on Christmas Eve, until midnight, without inquiring as to the religions or musical tastes of his neighbors. That December I heard "The Little Drummer Boy" approximatle 50 times, all the way through every time. The first four notes of that song have been enough to make me explode ever since. I do not simply hate that song more than all other Christmas songs, I hate it more than all other music on earth, including Japanese music.
As for the Christmas pickle, well any story that involves chopping up children and pickling them makes me feel Christmassy. In any event, I make it a policy to spend every Christmas thoroughly pickled.
Yowee. All this ferschnuddle over Christmas spiders. *And* pickles. :>/
I like the various awards mentioned for finding the Christmas Pickle. (hic)
My mom was German. But my memory needed refreshing about the Pickle and Spider legends.
Yeppers - if I lived across the street from a McMansion, I'd probably wish a plague of spiders on it/them, too.
Now I'll go scrub down a few hundred doorsteps for an act of contrition. :>)
I'd never understood the Christmas pickle story, so I give thanks for that.
But if you go over here, you'll find a story which I quite enjoy about the first Christmas and spiders. I loathe them too (for what it's worth), but I love the story...
The version of Christmas pickle that I heard had the boys bringing gifts from their rich father to Bishop Nicholas, and they had to spend the night at the inn. So innkeeper figures if he gets rid of them, he can keep the presents. But when Bp Nicholas comes (because he finds out, of course) then they must be hidden--in a barrel of brine! So I guess you could say the innkeeper had a motive too.
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