Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
It is Saint Francis of Assissi who is thought to be the creator of the first crib (Nativity Scene). It was a living one - with animals and people. Nowadays, however, Nativity Scene is usually depicted in the form of a model that shows a wooden hut (or cave) where Jesus Christ is supposed to be born.
Although Jesus Christ was born in today's Israel (where it is much warmer than in Poland), the Poles prefer depictions in which the nativity scene takes place in conditions similar to those in the country. There is for example snow, Polish gorale (highlanders) or local buildings. Small models (made of cartoon, plastic or wood) are put under the Christmas Tree to remind of that joyful day. The schools and churches perform Jaselka - Nativity Play - to entertain the public with the history of Jesus Christ's birth.
With time, creating Nativity Scenes became art - especially in Krakow where there is the Crib contest organized every year. The Nativity Scene of Krakow (called Szopka Krakowska) features shining buildings with steeple towers, that remind the architecture of the city (especially St Mary's Church). In the 2nd half of 19th century the builders from outskirts of Krakow started building the Nativity Scene for sale, as their additional Winter job. With time they started to differ from those from other parts of Poland. They became pieces of art, full of colors (as they are covered with colorful silver papers). In 1923 the first contest of Nativity Scenes was organized in Krakow. All the cribs worth keeping, are gathered by the National Museum and are displayed each year. The tradition of building the Krakow Cribs comes down to generations. It became traditional activity among many Krakow families.
Apart from the museum in Krakow, there is one situated in south of Poland - in Old Village nearby Brzozowa - that was founded by Jesuits. It gathered over 100 Nativity Scenes from all over the world. The oldest are over 100 years old.
Some of the convents keep up the tradition started by St Francis and perform Living Nativity Scene nearby their churches. One of the most popular ones is the one at Franciszkanska in Krakow - nearby the Bishop's House - where the tradition was started in 1991. Live animals, such as donkey, and people playing Holy Family and their visitors - such as the three kings.
The tradition of having at home models of Cribs, or displaying living Nativity Scenes at churches is very old. It dates back to Middle Ages.