Christmas Folk Tales
With all the traditions we have around Christmas, there’s bound to be a few fascinating origin stories from cultures much older than our own. For example, if you look up the origin of Christmas trees, you’ll find versions from countries all over the world claiming to take ownership – even ancient Egypt. While we may never know exactly where our favourite holiday traditions actually come from – unless we finally manage to perfect a time machine – it’s incredible to see the amazing stories from across the world and the lessons they all impress upon us. Here are a few of my favourites:
The Tale of the Fir Tree
This classic Danish folktale by Hans Christian Andersen tells of a little fir tree growing in a forest. Shorter than all the other trees around it, the little tree just wanted to grow big and strong so he could see the world from up above and blow in the wind like all the big guys. The stocky little fir was envious of all the tall trees, which either got to leave the forest and travel the world as ship masts, or enjoy being covered in beautiful decorations in the townspeople’s homes.
He pushed himself to grow taller and taller, year after year, until he was finally picked by a passing woodcutter. The woodcutter chopped the fir tree down and brought him to a big house. Inside, the woodcutter’s family decorated him with beautiful ornaments. The children celebrated him and picked presents out from among his branches.The tree believed all his wishes had come true, and he couldn’t wait for it all to happen again the next day!
The next day was not so merry. The servants came, took the decorations off, and stuffed him in the attic. Lonely and alone in the dark, he told himself he was only up there because it was too cold to plant him back outside, so they were waiting until spring. When spring finally came, though, he was old, brittle, and withered. They brought him back out, and he relished the sun and fresh air. He lamented about how he wished he’d spent more time enjoying his life as a small fir in the forest. Then, they chopped him to bits and tossed him in the fire.
While it may not have the happiest of endings, this tale offers an important lesson in mindfulness. It encourages us to enjoy our lives in the moment, rather than longing for a better future. Don’t get swept up in the stress of the holidays, just waiting for them to be over. Celebrate them with your friends and family now, because these years will be behind you sooner than you might expect.
The Story of the Christmas Fairy
This German Christmas story starts with a handsome, young count named Otto. The count refused to marry any of the women in town, earning him the nickname “Stone Heart.” One Christmas Eve, he planned a big hunt in the woods surrounding his castle. As the hunting party pursued their game, Otto got separated from the group, and he came upon a spring deep in the forest. He hopped down from his horse and began to wash his hands in it, noticing that it was much warmer than the chilly wintery weather. Enjoying the warmth, he stuck his arms further into the spring, but when he took them out, he noticed his golden ring had disappeared from his hand!
Enraged, he rode back to the castle and tried to sleep. Deep in the night, he was woken up by footsteps and music outside his bedroom door. The doors burst open and a band of fairies appeared. They could dance, and they could jive, having the times of their lives (oh, wait…wrong story). Along with the fairies, a magical tree also appeared in the room, covered with stars and jewels. Amongst the celebrating fairies was the Queen, the most magnificent being Otto had ever seen. She told him he lost something in their well. She gave him back his ring and they danced the night away together. He begged the beautiful fairy to be his bride and she agreed – but only if he never talked about death in front of her.
For years, they were happy and married, but one day when they were going out for a hunt, the Queen was taking too long getting ready. Like every husband impatiently waiting on their wife, Otto grew frustrated and short-tempered. When she finally appeared, he remarked she kept him waiting so long, she should have sent Death to come and take him. Hearing the forbidden word, his wife disappeared. Otto searched everywhere, but never saw her again. Every year, he put up a beautifully decorated tree – like the magical one from their first night together – in her memory, hoping she’d come back.
This story teaches us to cherish our loved ones, and never take them for granted. Don’t be impatient – savour every moment with them (even if Boxing Day at the mall is the last place you want to be).
The Fable of the Christmas Spider
Spiders are probably the last thing you want to hear about on Christmas, but this Slavic fable gives them a starring role. It starts with a mother on Christmas who is desperate to make her house the most presentable for the coming of Christ (or Santa or a Christmas Angel, depending on the version you’re reading) on Christmas Eve. She scrubs the house from top to bottom and shoos away the spiders, knocking down their cobwebs. She delicately places all her ornaments on the tree and finally sleeps, hoping all her hard work was enough for a blessing.
Seeing she had finally put the broom away, the spiders crept out from their hiding holes and jumped down on the tree to check out all the ornaments she had put up. They jumped from branch to branch admiring it all and went to leave before she woke up, but they noticed they’d left behind their silky webs all around the tree! That’s when Christ appeared.
He was glad to see all the little spiders so happy, but he knew the mother would be so sad to see her hard work covered in spider webs in the morning. So he performed one of his famous miracles – turning the webs into strands of silver and gold (or as we know it better, tinsel). When the mother saw this blessing, she cried happy tears.
This story not only claims to be the origin of tinsel, but it also comes with a few lessons in it, too. Not only does it teach us that our hard work will be rewarded, it also shows us to love all the things in life – big and small. Even in something as tiny and unpleasant as a spider, there’s good to be found, and celebrated.
Christmas isn’t just about the presents under the tree or the decorations we put up. It’s about kindness, love, and goodwill towards all. These tales remind us of that and teach us important lessons – mindfulness, patience, perseverance, and gratitude – that are important not just at Christmas time, but all year round. Happy holidays!