Christmas time is perfect for traveling to Poland. The streets of the main cities look adorable, adorned with lights. Walking around the Old Town in Warsaw or Kraków, you can try the tasty Polish food and buy presents on the Christmas market. But if you are planning a trip to Poland at the turn of the year, make sure you do not miss the Nativity scenes.
The best-known Nativity scenes are called szopka krakowska. It is a Christmas tradition that originated from Kraków. It dates back to the 19th century. The main material to build the structural skeleton of szopkas is wood or plywood. Smaller elements are made of cardboard and szopkas are decorated with colorful tinfoil. Szopka-makers used to make their szopkas in two sizes: small ones for sale, with static figurines, and bigger ones that served as mobile puppet theaters to be carried around by carollers. What is unusual about these Nativity scenes is that they use historical buildings of Kraków, especially churches, as backdrop. They also often contain figurines that illustrate elements of Polish culture, such as politicians, artists, the Pope or the Dragon of Wawel.
On the first Thursday of December a szopka presentation and competition is held on the Main Market Square in Kraków. The first tournament of this kind took place in 1937 and ever since has been organized every year (except for the time of the Second World War). If you would like to see the best szopkas, you should visit the Historical Museum of Kraków, where they are accessible to the public from December to February. Beautiful and colorful szopkas are also made and sold as souvenirs.
In 2018, the Kraków Nativity scene tradition was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
If you are traveling to Warsaw, don’t forget to see the szopka on Miodowa street, which year after year attracts Polish families and tourists from all around the world. The big, mechanized Nativity scene with lights, music and pouring water invariably makes a big impression on the visitors.
No matter which church you decide to enter, during the Christmas season you will always find a Nativity scene there. Some churches in Poland even arrange living Nativity scenes with donkeys, sheep and goats. They are especially popular among the youngest citizens of Poland.