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Eldersburg friends create spider ornaments based on holiday story

When Cindy Horman looks at a spider on her Christmas tree, she thinks of her mother. That is because the spider is an ornament, and Horman's very first Christmas spider came as a gift from her mother, the late Judy Roberts, and her mother's partner, Paula Bonin, back in 1996.

"They went to a Christmas craft show at the Damascus Senior Center, and saw a little German lady selling Christmas spiders," Horman said.

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That year, Horman received a red and black spider ornament from her mothers, and Horman's son, then age 5, received a blue and black spider ornament.

Not a big fan of spiders in general, Horman freaked out and asked them why they would get her a spider as a gift. That's when her mothers told her the story of the Christmas spider.

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In a nutshell, the German legend of the Christmas spider relates how the spiders wanted to see the beauty of the Christmas tree, and, being nearsighted, they had to climb all over the tree to see each ornament. When the Christ Child arrived to bless the house, he touched the webs the spiders left behind and turned them into silver and gold. This is how the story explains tinsel being hung on Christmas trees, and in Germany and other countries, it is why a Christmas spider ornament is hung on the tree.

Horman, of Eldersburg, fell in love with the idea of a Christmas spider after hearing the story. The ornament became a regular feature on her Christmas tree, and she fondly remembers her mother Judy, who has since died, every time she sees it.

It is also why, once she went into business making beaded jewelry and dream catchers, she decided to add Christmas spiders to her wares.

Crafting has been part of Horman's life since childhood. She had created homemade Christmas ornaments every year since she was 9, she said. She started making beaded spiders to sell about six years ago.

"The first show I ever took spiders to, I only had 20, and they sold out before noon," Horman said.

Their popularity immediately apparent, Horman recruited her good friend and fellow bead artist, Rosalie "Rosie" Sawyer, to join in the work of spider creation. Bringing Rosalie into the spider enterprise brought along another bonus: Her husband, Gary Sawyer, is the beading team's ace salesman at craft shows.

"The good thing about these spiders is that you can make them any way you want to," Horman said. "They change every year based on what supplies we can get. Every year we go to Bead Fest in Philadelphia and find something new that will make beautiful spiders."

The team is already looking forward to the 2015 Christmas spiders, with Horman displaying a collection of handmade Murano glass beads.

"These are going to be the 'imports' and priced a little higher," she said, "because these beads are not cheap."

Horman and Rosalie Sawyer are both quite meticulous about what they make.

"We're very particular, and no two spiders are exactly alike, although we do special orders to match, if requested," Horman said.

Once they have designed a certain style of spider, the women will continue making that style, as long as they can still get the beads. Each year, though, they try to add something new, which in 2014 was faceted beads.

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Although they enjoy using fancy, expensive beads in their creations, the team also focuses on having affordable spiders, too, with $8 as the lowest price of their handmade ornaments.

"We know that people are as broke as we are," Horman said. "We like to think that all people deserve nice things."

They supply a copy of the Christmas spider story with each spider sold. Most spiders are sold as ornaments, though they do make some spider pins that can be worn.

"We found the story and put it into a frame [at our booth], so people can read it," Horman said. "When people read it, nine times out of 10 they have to have one."

Gary Sawyer also related the phenomenon of what he calls spite sales.

" 'Oh, my sister hates spiders. She'll freak out. I'll get her one,' " he said, referring to some people's reactions.

The reaction is more sentimental most of the time, though.

"It's interesting. With the story, you see a lot of people read it and start to tear up," Gary Sawyer said.

That sentimental feeling is the reason Horman, along with Rosalie Sawyer, keep at the painstaking work of making Christmas spiders.

"I do it because it's kind of like sharing Mom — spreading that happiness," Horman said.

The legend of the Christmas spider

This is the story that comes with each spider ornament sold by Eldersburg residents Cindy Horman and Rosalie Sawyer.

Once upon a time, long ago, in Germany, there lived a poor widow and her children in a tiny cottage. The mother had no money to buy her children a lot of gifts, but she so wanted them to have a tree. After putting the kids to bed, she went and cut a tree down and placed it in the house and decorated it with fruits, nuts and cookies she had made. The gentle mother then busily cleaned her house, in preparation for the most wonderful tradition of the year, the coming of the Christ Child, bringing gifts for Christmas Eve. She then fell into her bed exhausted and worried that her children would not have a happy Christmas.

Not a speck of dust was left. Even the spiders had fled their corner and gone to the attic. At last, the time drew near. The tree was decorated and the children were delighted. The poor spiders, however, were frantic! They could not see the tree. The oldest and wisest spider suggested they creep out of the attic and peek through a crack in the threshold. Soon the door opened, and they quickly sneaked into the room. The tree towered so high, they could only see one ornament at the top, so they scurried along each branch, admiring the glittering beauty. Every place they went, they left a train of dusty gray web, until finally the entire tree was covered with it.

When the Christ Child saw this, he was happy that the spiders had seen the tree, but he knew the mother would be broken-hearted about its dusty, gray appearance. He reached out and touched the webs and blessed them, and they all turned a lovely, shimmering gold and silver. On Christmas morning, the family awoke to such a lovely sight and all were happy. A beautiful sight to behold: a tree glittering in tinsel. And so, it became a custom of the Christmas season to decorate their trees with tinsel and to have a spider among the other decorations on the tree.

How to get a Christmas spider

Horman and the Sawyers will have the premiere of the Murano glass bead spiders at Art in the Park 2015 in June in Westminster. They also have confirmed booth reservations for 2015 at Octoberfest in Frederick, Colorfest in Thurmont, and the Liberty High School Fall Craft Fair.

Although supplies are limited, some Christmas spiders are still available for this year. For more information, contact Rosalie Sawyer at RosalieSawyer@verizon.net or call 410-627-8062.

Books about the Christmas spider

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The Carroll County Public Library has these retellings of the legend of the Christmas spider available in the children's book collection:

• "Cobweb Christmas" by Shirley Climo

• "A Christmas Spider's Miracle" by Trinka Hakes Noble

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