The first Thursday of every December the city of Krakow hosts a uniquely Polish tradition – a showcase and competition of Christmas “cribs” – brightly colored nativities constructed from brightly colored foil and cardboard or metal – set in architectural details from around Krakow.
The tradition of the cribs (szopka in Polish) dates back to the 19th century when Krakow’s woodworkers and masons would make large nativity displays with puppets depicting Christ’s birth – only set amongst Polish (primarily Krakow) landmarks. When Poland gained independence in 1918, the cribs were sold as an extra way to make money at Christmas – and have evolved into an amazing annual folk art tradition.
The first szopka competition in Krakow was held in 1937 – and has happened on the first Thursday of every December since (excluding the years during WWII.)
Normally, the nativities are made at home (there are separate categories for kids and adults, for large and small cribs alike) and then displayed at the Adam Mickiewicz Monument in the middle of Krakow’s main square before being paraded to the Krakow Historical Museum where they are auctioned off or sold (to raise money for the maker or to be donated to the museum) or displayed for museum-goers.
Since we were there on a day that was quite wet (it was raining, snowing, and sleeting at various parts of the morning), the festivities were a bit paired down as most nativity makers were trying to protect their intricate, delicate creations. We still got to see a ton of cribs, however – and watching kids and adults alike “parade” their creations past makeshift paparazzi (including my friends and I, cameras in hand) and news crews was incredibly adorable.
If you go
Consider taking a tour guide along with you – Krakow’s tour guides are fantastic – most are college educated, speak numerous languages, and can help you find the best spot to see the parade of nativities
Our tour guide, Pawel, was amazing – he had just as much fun seeing the cribs as we did and helped us know when to watch the parade of people, find activities nearby, and made the whole event so much more enjoyable!
I’ve used a couple of tour guides in Poland now and seriously – Krakow has the most amazing guides. It’s helpful to have someone help you navigate through a couple landmarks a day (we had Pawel with us four hours a day for two days – which was a great way to see a couple highlights and then go off on our own and explore).
For more Tourism Information to plan your visit to Krakow, please check the Krakow City Council Website.
They provide a TON of information, trip ideas, tour guides, and more! I specifically love the “Tour Routes” section with tons of options that make it incredibly easy to plan your own tour.
Disclosure : We were provided with our tour guide thanks to the Krakow City Council – all opinions are 100% my own.