Christmas in Poland: Christmas Trees, Nativity Scenes, Nativity Plays
Both Christmas trees and Nativity scenes may be found in Polish homes at Christmas time. The Polish city of Krakow sponsors a Nativity scene competition, which began in 1937 as a way of preserving an old folk tradition. Contestants in this competition must first make a model of Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral and then place the manger scene on its doorstep. The winning entries are displayed in the Museum of Ethnography.
In past eras groups of boys performed Nativity plays, or szopka, during the Twelve Days of Christmas. These youngsters roamed towns and villages with homemade puppet theaters, performing folk plays loosely based on the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. With the boys’help, the puppets not only acted, but also sang, the story. The stage and backdrop for the puppets were usually designed to represent the manger in which Christ was born, thus these performances served as animated Nativity scenes. In Krakow the backdrop for the puppet shows often depicted Wawel Cathedral.