Shirley Climo's Cobweb Christmas (Crowell, 1982) has been excerpted and adapted for your read-aloud pleasure tonight.

Once upon a Christmastime, long ago in Germany, there lived a little old woman, who couldn't even count all the Christmases she'd seen. The children in her village called her Tante, which means "Auntie" in German.

Tante shared her small cottage at the edge of a forest with her dog and cat and canary. In her barn, she kept a donkey, a cow, and a goat, a speckled hen, and a noisy rooster to crow her out of bed each morning. Tante didn't fuss over a few feathers, a little fur or a spiderweb or two. Except once a year, when the old woman would nod her head and say, "Time to clean for Christmas."

Then she'd shake the quilt, scrub the floor, and sweep the cobwebs from the ceiling. This Christmas was just as always.

"Shoo!" she scolded, flapping her apron and swishing her broom. All the spiders and webs went flying out the door. And when every crack and corner was clean, the old woman nodded her head and said, "Time to fetch Christmas."

Then Tante took the ax from its peg in the barn and jogged off on the donkey's back. In the forest they circled and looked, until at last Tante spied a fir tree that suited her. She chopped it down and took it home on the donkey's back.

The tree fit the cottage as snugly as if it had sprouted there. Pleased, the old woman nodded her head and said, "Time to make Christmas."

Then Tante made cookies -- gingerbread boys and girls, almond cookies cut like new moons, and cinnamon cookies shaped like stars. She hung them on the tree, along with gleaming apples, a red-ribboned bone for the dog and catnip for the cat. Cheese for the mice, oats for the donkey and cow and goat, nuts, seeds, and cracked corn in a basket -- there was something for everyone on Tante's tree, except, of course, for the spiders, for they'd been brushed away.

Then the old woman nodded her head and said, "Time to share Christmas," and she invited all the children in the village to come see the tree.

"Tante!" they cried, "that's the most wonderful tree in the world!"

They nibbled apples and cookies, and then went home to their beds to wait for Christkindel. Christkindel was the spirit who went from house to house on Christmas Eve and slipped presents into the toes of their shoes.

Then the old woman invited the animals to come and share Christmas. To each and every visitor, Tante gave a gift. But no one could give Tante what she wanted.

All of her life she had heard stories about marvelous happenings on Christmas Eve. Cocks would crow at midnight. Bees could hum a carol. Animals might speak aloud. More than anything else, Tante wanted some Christmas magic that was not of her own making. "Now it's time to wait for Christmas," the old woman said as she nodded in her rocking chair, tired from the cleaning and chopping and cooking.

She never heard the rusty, squeaky voices calling at her door, "Let us in!"

Someone else heard.

Christkindel was passing the cottage on his way to take the toys to the village children. He listened. He looked and saw hundreds of spiders sitting on Tante's doorstep.

"We've never had a Christmas," said the biggest spider. "We're always swept away. Please, Christkindel, may we peek at Tante's tree?"

So Christkindel opened the cottage door a crack and let the spiders in. All kinds of spiders came creeping, crawling, sneaking softly, weaving, and wobbling into the old woman's cottage.

The curious spiders crept closer and closer to the tree, then skittered up the trunk. From branch to branch they ran, in and out, back and forth, leaving behind a trail of threads.

Now the spiders weren't curious any longer. They'd seen and felt Christmas, so they scuttled away.

When Christkindel came back to latch the door, he found Tante's tree tangled with sticky, stringy spiderwebs. He knew how dismayed Tante would be on Christmas morning, so he changed the cobwebs into a gift for her.

As Christkindel touched the spikes of each web with his finger, the strands and threads became shiny gold and sparkling silver. Now the old woman's Christmas tree was truly the most wonderful in the world.

When the rooster woke Tante in the morning, she rubbed her eyes and blinked at the glittering tree. "Something marvelous has happened!" she cried.

Tante was puzzled, as well as pleased. The little old woman knew, too, that such miracles come but once. So, each Christmastime thereafter, she left a few webs in the rafters, so that the spiders might share Christmas. And every year, after she'd hung the cookies and the apples on her tree, the little old woman would nod her head and say, "Time for Christmas magic."

Then Tante would weave tinsel among the branches, until the tree sparkled with strings of gold and silver. Just as her tree did on the Cobweb Christmas.

Just as Christmas trees do today.