Cracow Nativity Scene Competition – an amazing polish tradition

The Christmas nativity scene is a kind of mock-up or diorama symbolically depicting the scene of the birth of Jesus Christ. A special place in tradition is occupied by pieces produced by Cracow’s nativity makers since the second half of the nineteenth century.

Structure style

Interest in folklore and the realization of the unique nature of architecture has eventually led to the separation of the Cracow nativity scene from other similar structures. The presence of patriotic ornaments, both local and national, is considered to be an important fact. The style itself is a fanciful combination of slender Gothic features and puffy Baroque domes. Modelers use a wooden frame to achieve the desired effect. Towers and smaller elements are made of thick cardboard. These two basic materials are covered with colored aluminum foil, i.e. staniol. Decades prior, the most outstanding artists adorned the walls with colorful metal plates. Formerly, artists built stained glass windows or other shutters from paper lined with cellophane, then transitioned to using authentic painted glass in the 1950’s.

History of the competition

The first Cracow nativity scene competitions recorded in the city’s chronicles took place on December 21, 1937 on the initiative of the City Council. This idea was dictated by the striking fact that the quality of handicrafts was systematically decreasing. More than eighty works have been submitted to the first edition of the competition. The winner was Stanisław Polak, who took the first prize at the foot of the Adam Mickiewicz monument at the Main Square. The attractive money prizes were funded by the city president, officials, the editorial team of the “Illustrated Daily Courier” and sponsors. Competitions, though annual in principle, had to be canceled during the Nazi occupation. After years of war, the Historical Museum of the City of Cracow took over the patronage of the competition. From that moment it has taken place consistently on the first Thursday of December.

Competition rules

Anonymous competition jurors assess the workmanship of nativity scenes in at least several categories regarding the size or age of participants. In order to objectively choose the winner, the pieces are considered in terms of many features. Experts pay attention to elements of tradition, decorative qualities, architecture, color, additional aesthetic elements, workmanship, innovation, and the overall impression. The competition gathers countless specialists, ethnographers, historians, museologists, visual artists of all forms of art, as well as painters, sculptors and photographers.