Among Nativity Scenes

17 December 2018

Once upon a time they provided entertainment for wealthy Cracovians – today they usher in the festive spirit throughout the city.

The annual contest and exhibition of Cracovian nativity scenes has been an important part of the rhythm of Christmas celebrations for decades. The tradition dates back to the 19th century, when craftsmen living in suburbs and villages on the outskirts of Kraków found themselves short of work in winter and took to carolling and performing nativity plays at homes of wealthy Cracovians. The puppetry performances were filled with humour and folk tales, and staged using portable nativity scenes modelled on Cracovian architecture. After the First World War, as other forms of entertainment took over, the colourful constructions turned into popular Christmas decorations, sold on the Main Market Square by the Adam Mickiewicz statue.

The municipal authorities decided to bolster the fading tradition, and in 1937 they hosted the first contest for the most beautiful nativity scene. Ever since then, every December (apart from a gap during the Second World War) artisans bring their creations to the Main Market Square to be assessed by a jury; the nativity scenes are then displayed at a post-contest exhibition. Since 1946, the event has been organised by the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków.

Held since 2015 by the museum and the Kraków Festival Office, the campaign All Around Nativity Scenes (6 December – 31 January) brings the dazzling constructions beyond museum walls to be displayed in the city space. Nativity scenes are returning to their roots: we will see them in windows and displays of shops, hotels and restaurants, in front of shopping centres, and in city parks and squares. This year we can admire 26 archival nativity scenes awarded prizes and distinctions during past contests. As in previous years, the campaign has commissioned several brand new, large double-sided nativity scenes presented in illuminated cases throughout the city, bringing the total of new constructions up to 15.

Once again wintertime Kraków reveals its smaller, dazzling, sparkling reflection. On Epiphany (6 January), join us for a Walk All Around Nativity Scenes. (Dorota Dziunikowska, “Karnet” monthly)

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