Polish traditions: Krakow Nativity Scenes

Krakow nativity scenes it's real handicraft works of art. They are bound indivisible with Christmas. They are beautiful and one of a kind! Slender, multi-level, richly decorated ... They are characterized by the accumulation of miniaturized, fancifully interconnected elements reflecting the historic architecture of Krakow. Artists are especially inspired St. Mary's Church, but also Wawel, the Cloth Hall and the Barbican. Interestingly, in order for the nativity scene to be recognized as Krakow, it must be not only a multi-storey, richly decorated, tower building. It should also be constructed of light materials (e.g. cardboard or plywood).  The Krakow nativity scene, like other nativity scenes, is, above all, supposed to be a worthy place to present the great mystery of the Birth of the Son of God, its central characters are therefore the Child, Mary and Saint Joseph.

As the Kraków nativity scenes are derived from the tradition of static nativity scenes and nativity plays, they must not be complete without figures of shepherd children, sheep or oxen ... (the oldest nativity figurines, from the fourteenth century, are preserved in the convent of Poor Clares at St. Andrew's Church in Kraków). The heroes of nativity scenes usually belong to two intertwining worlds: biblical, depicting the birth of Jesus and secular, constantly changed and updated. Today, in nativity scenes, you will find both historical and contemporary figures. Their heroes also come from the folklore and legends of Krakow (with a particularly popular legend about the Wawel Dragon).

The first nativity scenes were created in the mid-nineteenth century. They were created by carpenters and bricklayers from Krakow and the surrounding area. It was an extra job for them during the dead construction season. During the holidays, they would go with their nativity scenes around the houses to earn money. The team of nativity scene makers, foreman Michał Ezenekier, who visited the Counts Potocki every year in the Pod Baranami palace and the Estreichers, was especially known.

In 1927, Antoni Wasilewski initiated the organization of the annual competition for the most beautiful Krakow Christmas nativity scene. Since 1937, every year, on the first Thursday of December, the presentation of nativity scenes and a competition for the most beautiful of them have been held on the steps of the Mickiewicz monument in the Market Square in Krakow. Whole families of modern carpenters specialize in building nativity scenes. The prizes are awarded in four categories: large nativity scenes, medium nativity scenes, small nativity scenes and miniature nativity scenes. The time it takes to make them depends on the format. Building a structure that is several meters high may take up to a year.







photo: kuriermlawski.pl, press materials, Historical Museum of the City of Kraków

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