Now you can have your own handmade Cracow szopka souvenir in your own home. This crèche offered is thoroughly covered with meticulously placed thin colored candy foil. Actual crèche received may vary slightly from image show as they are all handmade.
Now available in three choice sizes:
• SMALL crèche measures approx. 4.25" L x 2.0" W x 9.0" H
• MEDIUM crèche measures approx. 7.0" L x 3.25" W x 13.0" H
The lifetime of a szopka (nativity scene, crèche) is very short. It starts with Christmas and ends on February 2, when carols are no longer sung and manger scenes are taken out of churches. However, there is a place in Poland, where they are popular all year long. The Museum of Ethnography in Cracow is in possession of a collection of nearly 50 manger scenes, including the oldest one in Poland, dating from the late 19th century, which is 220cm high.
Manger scenes were probably originally created by Saint Frances. It was in 1243 in Italy that the first scenes connected with Christmas were presented. These multi-figured scenes of Christ's birth and his adoration, or nativity plays, after some time were disapproved of by the church authorities and moved to the streets.
Polish nativity plays and puppet theatre performances, joining liturgical and social-satirical plots, are a unique phenomenon. What is more interesting, manger scenes from Cracow have a unique tradition, not cultivated in any other part of Poland. The Cracow szopka are bound to Cracow and its architecture. The first picture of a Cracow manger scene was presented in the press in 1862. It was about that time that Cracow became the capital of Polish manger scene builders. It often happened so that construction workers did not have much work during winter, but what is more surprising, they closely co-operated with the Cracow intelligentsia; the former prepared constructions, the latter lyrics for the plays.
After the Great War, manger scenes were less spectacular and smaller, so that they could have been put under Christmas trees (they were called betlejemki). Their patriotic function was also reduced. It seemed that tradition of building manger scenes was dying out in Cracow. In order to retain it, in 1937 the Cracow authorities organized the first contest for the most beautiful manger scene. This was when a new trend was created--building manger scenes in Cracow for the purpose of the contest to find the best model.
Modern manger scenes still hold the adoration scene, but they also depict legendary figures from Cracow or characters from Polish history, even from modern history. Figures are merchandised and facades are meticulously decorated with the use of modern materials. The crèches can rise from six inches to six feet high, some have mechanisms or lights, and are all covered in colored foils and depict historical buildings of Cracow.