Cracow Nativities
Christmas Splendour from Poland

26.11.2005 to 29.01.2006

Museum Europäischer Kulturen

In the context of the German-Polish Year 2005/2006 the Museum of Ethnography Cracow is visiting the Museum Eropäischer Kulturen (Museum of European Cultures) in Berlin with the exhibition 'Cracow Nativities - Christmas Splendour from Poland'.


At the heart of the exhibition stand fairytale-like nativity scenes (in Polish 'szopki') made from wood, cardboard and coloured tinfoil. Cracow is the creative centre for these unique nativity scenes, the design of which is always made to resemble actual buildings in the city. Originally, they served as mobile backdrops for nativity puppet plays in Cracow's bourgeois dwellings. As an adjunct to the biblical scenes, the players performed secular, often patriotic genre pieces, delivered in satirical fashion for the amusement of the audience. They attracted the scorn of the clerical authorities which introduced strict controls; under Austrian government the nativity plays were even banned altogether. The nativities reached the height of their popularity during the 19th century until the First World War. Since 1937 - though temporarily discontinued during the Second World War - the city has held an annual competition for the most beautiful nativity scene. Over 100 nativity scene builders take part in this competition every year, around two thirds of them teenagers.