Kraków nativity scenes are true works of handicraft art. They are inseparably connected with Christmas. They are beautiful and one of a kind! Slim, multi-storey, richly decorated… They are characterized by the accumulation of miniaturized, fancifully combined elements reflecting the historic architecture of Kraków. Artists are inspired especially by St. Mary's Church, but also by Wawel Castle, the Cloth Hall or the Barbican. Interestingly, for a nativity scene to be recognized as Kraków Szopka, it must be not only a multi-storey, richly decorated tower building. It should also be constructed of light materials (eg cardboard or plywood). The Kraków nativity scene, like other nativity scenes, is, however, primarily, to be a worthy place to present the great mystery of the Nativity of the Son of God, so its central figures are Baby Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph.
As the Kraków nativity scenes originate from the tradition of static Christmas nativity scenes and plays, they cannot be missing figurines of shepherds, sheep or oxen… (the oldest nativity figurines originating from the fourteenth century have been preserved in the monastery of Poor Clares at the church of St. Andrew in Kraków). The heroes of the nativity scenes usually belong to two intertwining worlds: the biblical one, depicting the birth of Jesus, and the secular one, constantly changing and updated. Today in nativity scenes you can find both historical and modern figures. Their heroes also come from Kraków folklore and legends (with a particularly popular legend about the Wawel Dragon).
The first nativity scenes were created in the mid-nineteenth century. They were made by carpenters and bricklayers from Kraków and the surrounding area. It was an extra occupation for them outside of the construction season. During Christmas, they went from house to house with their nativity scenes to earn money. Particularly well-known was the team of nativity scene makers of Michał Ezenekier, a master who visited the Counts of Potocki every year at the Pod Baranami Palace and the Estreichers.
In 1927, Antoni Wasilewski initiated the organization of an annual competition for the most beautiful Kraków Szopka. Every year, since 1937, on the first Thursday of December, on the steps of Adam Mickiewicz Monument on the Kraków Market Square, the presentation of nativity scenes and the competition for the most beautiful one take place. Whole families of modern carpenters specialise 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 their format. Construction of a several-meter structure can take up to one year.
photo: kuriermlawski.pl, press materials, Historical Museum of the City of Kraków