A special Christmas tradition in Krakow is the building of szopka (pronounced SHOP-ka). Originally designed as portable theaters for puppet Nativity plays, now these Christmas "cribs" have become elaborate structures that are nothing like the crèches we are used to. They are very colorful and richly-decorated extravaganzas inspired by Krakow’s churches, with the spires of St. Mary’s church in the main square prominent in many of them. All have a nativity scene included somewhere, but there are a lot of other things going on too: some have moving parts, some have electric lights, and all have a tremendous amount of decorative detail. There is a competition each year for the best cribs, including a category for children and teens. It must take the major portion of a year to construct one!
The successful entries for the current year are displayed in the City of Krakow Historical Museum throughout the holiday season. We toured this year’s exhibition and they were amazing…some very large and elaborate, others like little jewel boxes. We also discovered that the grand prize winners from previous years are on display at the mall we walk through on our way home from the University.
We have decorated our little apartment for Christmas, including a wreath, a little tree, Christmas cards (including one with a picture of a szopka), and a poinsettia. We have our gingerbread cookies from Torun and now we’re just waiting for Alison and Nick to arrive – seeing them will be our best Christmas gift!