Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 22: Krakow Szopka cribs

Happy Friday! It’s Day 22 of our Advent Calendar which means that Christmas is less than two days away. Today we are headed to Krakow, Poland to check out another lovely local Holiday tradition. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!




Cribs, crèches, nativity scenes – whatever you want to call them – are a common sight around Christmas time in Christian homes, but in Krakow, the tradition has a unique local variation. In Poland it has been a long standing tradition for local woodworkers to create elaborate scenes as sets for the nativity plays, Jaselka in Polish. The plays would be acted out with puppets on the streets, sometimes involving legendary figures from Polish folklore, though straying too far away from the source material was strongly opposed by the Catholic church. The tradition goes back all the way to the Middle Ages. During the 19th century woodworkers started creating slightly smaller versions of their elaborate cribs, szopka, as seasonal decorations to be sold to the wealthy. In 1918 when Poland gained its independence, miniature szopkas were sold as souvenirs in Krakow. It is unclear when the tradition of setting the nativity scene in famous Krakow landmarks started, but the most popular source of inspiration is the St. Mary’s Basilica, though the Sukiennice trade hall and the Wavel castle are also often depicted in the szopkas.

Every year on the first Thursday of December a competition is held to find the most beautiful szopkas from different categories. The best works are displayed in the Historical Museum of Krakow or sold. The first time the competition was held was in 1937 and it has been held every year since, with the exception of the war years.

In which landmark would you place the Nativity scene?


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