Post-Competition Exhibition of Krakow Creches

A presentation of the most interesting and impressive Krakow creches, selected from among those entered in this year's sixty-first edition of the COMPETITION FOR THE MOST BEAUTIFUL KRAKOW CRECHE (more...).

In his famous "Przewodnik dla zwiedzających Miasto i okolice" / "Guidebook for Visitiors to the City and Its Environs" published in 1938, Professor Karol Estreicher wrote as follows about the old Krakow tradition of making Christmas creches: "Around Christmas, masons and small boys in Krakow promenade around singing carols and carrying their creches and stars. The Krakow creche is usually made of paper and includes a small stage, upon which the hidden creche-makers animate small figures that portray Highlanders, Jews, Cossacks, King Herod, and others. The creche is certainly one of Poland's peculiarities. (...) The custom of assembling Nativity scenes supposedly originated with Saint Francis, who in the 13th century created an entire mystery cycle about the Birth of Christ. In Poland, this custom became popular in churches as early as the 14th century, no doubt thanks to the Franciscan Fathers (see the creche in St. Andrew's Church in Krakow). In subsequent centuries, the creators of creches began bringing the figures inside them to life, effectively creating something akin to small marionette theatres. Apart from retaining reverence towards the Nativity, creches began to include comic figures that were very familiar to the people and thus often highly humorous. These portrayed Jews, Cossacks, old cantankerous men, and the like. The portrayal of some types went so far as to cause offense, which resulted in presentations being banned from churches. At that time, creches emerged from places of worship and people began to promenade them around to homes and inns, often entering manor houses where the miniature creations entertained children. By the second quarter of the 19th century, this national custom had achieved popularity in Krakow, leading a local writer to draft a mystery cycle for the city's street creche-makers. Thus was created the 'Krakow creche,' a tradition taken up by local masons who, with no employment in the winter, nurtured the custom as it allowed them to gain additional income through creche-making. (...) The creche-making tradition died during the Great War and did not reappear immediately afterwards. The custom of promenading creches around people's homes also vanished. Happily, this tradition seems now to be experiencing a revival."

The first-ever competition for the most beautiful Krakow creche was organized under the auspices of the Historical Museum of Krakow in 1937. The typical Krakow creche is inspired by the city's architecture and local traditions. The most frequently used architectural motifs echo the towers of St. Mary's Church, the Barbakan, the Florian Gate, and Sigismund's Chapel. Creche-makers often incorporate characters from Krakow legends in their creations, including the likes of Queen Wanda, the Dragon of Wawel, and the famed Lajkonik. Each creche is a miniature version of Krakow, rendered in fairy-tale colors, joyous, often imbued with humor. These small miracles range in height from a few centimeters to several meters. The smallest of them would fit in a walnut shell or a matchbox.
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