The Nativity Scene (szopka) tradition in Krakow, Poland is a social practice originating from Christmas celebration customs, originally centered around constructing cribs (mangers). Born in the nineteenth century, the tradition is indissolubly connected to the City of Krakow and based on skills and knowledge passed down for generations. The szopka is a lightweight construction featuring the nativity scene surrounded by representations of houses and monuments of Krakow, all transformed by the individual maker. Other scenes are also represented through figurines and artificial lighting, depicting historical, cultural and contemporary social events relating to life in the City of Krakow, Poland and the world. On the first Thursday of every December, makers gather on Krakow Main Square to present their work, and the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow displays their work to the public from December to February, helping to transmit knowledge related to the practice.
This week, dozens of Nativity scenes were taken on a procession through the medieval city under a steady snowfall. The tradition goes back to the 19th century when local carpenters created them with surplus wood and paper and sold them in winter when there was less work. “The Nativity scenes reflected what was around them — the architecture of Krakow,” Justyna Matwijewicz, a member of the jury that will be awarding a prize for the best creation. The Nativity scene competition was set up in 1937 to save a tradition that was dying out after the First World War. Figurines of all kinds can be included this year one representing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a devil and Polish protesters were among the unusual characters making an appearance in traditional “szopka” Nativity scenes in Krakow.
Nativity scenes come in all shapes and sizes: (as illustrated in the video below) they might be life-sized, using actors to represent the protagonists, or they might be tiny wooden scenes made to display in a living room. Nativity scene makers taking part in competitions create their works over many months, reproducing in detail the rich architecture of Krakow. However, their nativity scenes are a product of the creator’s imagination and a stylistic mix. The best example of cultivating this tradition is the Malik family from the Zwierzyniec district of Krakow, which has been participating in this phenomenal project for the fourth generation, winning numerous awards.
It was Christmas time and the family was unpacking the Christmas decorations to put on and round the tree. Our three year old was unwrapping the porcelain statues for the nativity scene. He said, “Here is a king, and here is a donkey.” Then he got to the baby Jesus that was molded into the manger. Our son exclaimed, “Here is baby Jesus in his car seat.”
As the wife, I wrapped an expensive bottle of whiskey with a red and green ribbon and left it in the mailbox as a Christmas gift for our mailman, Larry. The bottle was gone the next day, but to my surprise and disappointment Larry never thanked me for his present. so I brushed it off knowing Larry’s route was long and would receive too many gifts to have sent thank you notes. That Spring when we were planning a party, I told my husband that he would have to go out and buy some liquor he opened the closet door and showed me a familiar bottle with a red and green ribbon. “Why don’t we use this”? He asked. “Larry left in our mailbox for Christmas.”
My wife asked me to get out of the house because I can’t stop singing Christmas songs.
I said, “But Baby, it’s cold outside.”
My wife bought a Chinese aluminum Christmas tree this year and looking at it all decorated, standing there in the corner brought a plastic teardrop to my eye.
December 12th Birthdays
1997 – Hallie Stanfield, 1994 – Nesta Cooper, 1981 – Arya, 1941 – Dione Warwick
1915 – Frank Sinatra, 1997 – Jack Griffo, 1923 – Bob Barker, 1962 – Mike Golic